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Preaching on the Plains, Chapter 8: Rohrbaugh and Atkinson

In Henry Atkinson, James Rohrbaugh, Preaching on the Plains on September 13, 2010 at 2:43 pm

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Preaching on the Plains, Chapter VIII

“. . . the servants of Jesus Christ . . .”  (Philippians 1:1)

At this point I believe it would be welcome to readers to digress in this chapter by beginning to speak at length of “other preachers on the Plains”.  In another chapter, then, we can re-enter matters of the last year of Seminary, ordination to the ministry and the beginning of my fifty years in that ministry.

But first, I introduce the following statements.  We have all seen colorful “Western Story” paperbacks, or their illustrative covers; for example, a picture of a lusty and wild looking cowboy riding up the street with the background of the high false front store, and shooting into the air!  I am sure, too, my account thus far of myself as a rather timid, cautious personality from a good mother’s knees belies the title, “Preacher on the Plains”, which we first planned to entitle this book.  Afterward, we planned the title, “Preachers on the Plains”.  However, my material concerning other men of God would have been sketchy by comparison with memories of my own experiences.  Hence the present title.  We were preachers, and we were on the Plains.

Now there were five of us who came from Princeton Seminary to settle for a time in Yellowstone Presbytery pastorates in eastern Montana within two years.  Two others and I came in 1929.  Two more the year following.  When we three came, an article appeared in the Miles City Star entitled, “Youth Takes Control in Yellowstone Presbytery.”  (If this article tempted us with grandiose ideas, we were surely disabused of it after two meetings, in the Spring and Fall Sessions, for older heads properly prevailed).  I speak now of the two other young men in 1929.  And James L. Rohrbaugh first.

This young man was taller than I, perhaps six foot, one inch in height.  He was of a ruddy countenance and of dark auburn hair.  While raised, I believe, in the east, he came closest to us to be like a pioneer preacher of the west.  His parish was the Ismay-Mildred parish of some three or four churches and communities.  It was of a more complete and truly ranching area in the far southeast part of Montana.  It was also a good deal south and east of Miles City.  His was a deep, pleasing voice and a hail fellow well met personality.  A cheerful disposition, he must have charmed his people.  A hint of his comraderie can be told by giving an account of an incident at a dinner date when three of us had been invited to the home of one of his younger adults.  Through some delay we were late arriving at the appointed dinner.  Entering into the home, Rev. Rohrbaugh said to the hostess, “I always like to be late for dinner, for then I know the hostess is thinking of me.”  With quick repartee and a smile, the hostess answered his deep voice with, “Yes, but oh what thoughts!”  Jimmie took us out once to an old rancher which he said had been a man of noble birth and who had come west in the 1800’s, and also had been highly educated.  I believe he once was a professor in an English university.  James told us this rancher would hardly look the part or act so to us, and we found it so indeed.  The ranch “spread” had an old time, low log house, typical of old ranches.  We found a man with legs well bowed, as one who had been long in the saddle, and of common, or simple, unpretentious, yet affable manners.  This was cattle country.  Fairview, my field farther north, was the sugar beet,  lower Yellowstone area, where it neared the confluence with the Missouri River to the north.  Up in the hills above the river valley near Fairview there was dry land farming, but not the large cattle ranches as a rule.  I found the town of Fairview to have had, indeed, as is found everywhere today, elements of a border town of pre-prohibition days, when North Dakota was a “dry state” and Montana was “wet”.  State Street was still there on the state line but few buildings were left and only holes remained for most buildings.  The once thriving street had there, at first, been the busy thoroughfare and quite complete in the city.  Thirsty North Dakotans could come in the old days.  However, prohibition came, wrought a change and State Street was on the decline.  Ellery Avenue, two blocks or so west, soon had a fine new brick hotel and a number of businesses were moved from State Street to the new attractive avenue.  Soon the new area was getting most all the day-time business.

The other of the three of us came to a county-wide ministry stemming from the small but county seat town of Hysham, Montana.  It was situated on the railroad between Miles City and Billings.  Henry Atkinson was most colorful in his life story — their man in that sparsely settled country.  Henry was born in Armenia, Turkey, son of a Congregational medical missionary.  His father adhered to the original puritan faith of the beginnings of New England, Congregationalism.  The family was in Armenia at the time Armenians were cruelly massacred and assaulted just before or during World War I.  Henry told us at Princeton, of the time he was a boy of twelve and buried a boy of twelve, his own age, and interred limb by limb his boyhood chum.  They were caught by the war after his father, the missionary doctor, died in enemy country, for Turkey was on the side of the Central Powers (Germany, Austria, and the Ottoman Empire).  His mother took Henry and his sister on a trek through the hostile country and  somehow they reached Syria and the Mediterranean Sea coast.  There they were rescued by an American vessel and brought to the USA.  I saw a picture of the three in Syria and they were desperately thin.  In America, still a lad, he attended the Dwight L. Moody school for boys in New England.  Graduated, he entered Princeton University.  He earned his way by various means, at one time delivering newspapers to students’ quarters, and later as Editor of the Daily Princetonian.  He was an able man.  As Editor, he exposed “Buchmanism”, a cult among students, in articles.  Attending Seminary later, he married a very fine Christian girl who was from the Second Presbyterian Church in Princeton town.  Graduating, they came in 1929 to the Hysham parish.  Soon he had developed a wide work covering just about everywhere.  His sparsely settled ranch country people thought the world of him.  After a good pastorate, like Mr. Rohrbaugh, he left the country.  But he died quite young.  We have heard his wife raised their children well.

Mr. Rohrbaugh, Jimmie we called him, left Montana after four years or so and not long after, I learned he was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with the Sudan Interior Mission.  It was a period when many were mistrusting the mission Boards of the older denominations.  So the newer ‘Faith Missions’ received support at first from many fundamentalists who could not trust their denominational Boards.  Our own Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions (IBPFM) was not organized until 1933.  IBPFM still stands faithful and separate from modernism.  James Rohrbaugh sought the biblical position and went where he could serve the Lord without compromise.  He was in Addis Ababa when Mussolini and his fascist government in Italy entered its war of conquest of Ethiopia.  After much good in the city of Addis Ababa, James resigned from his mission.  But he had a purpose.  He became for a time a reporter connected with an eastern USA city daily, in order to get to a point in Ethiopia where a battle with the Italian army was expected.  Spear-carrying tribesmen, ill-armed, were expected to try to meet the tanks and heavy arms of the Roman Legions.  Rohrbaugh’s purpose was still to serve the gospel to the Ethiopians, his reason for going to their land.  He thus found opportunity to scatter tracts and preach to the tribesmen who expected to die.  He wrote they asked him why this should be.  He declared to them there was a God of heaven who was sovereign and that all nations would be held in judgment.  The Italians won the battle and conquered the country.  James then was back in Addis Ababa just before the capitol fell.  At that time the city was in riot, bullets were firing, but he managed to go from one end of the city to the other on his motorcycle for the care of his family.  I wonder if he did not feel more like “A Preacher on the Plains” of old western lore, out in the ranch and old false front stores, or the Dodge City days of the Old West.

James Rohrbaugh became pastor of a United Presbyterian Church in Seattle.  It was not of the denomination now known as the UPC.  That denomination, or most of it, later united with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. to form a new UPC overall (UPCUSA).  I believe his deep voice was becoming in the pulpit of this city church and I am sure his hearers were won as were those on the western Plains earlier.

Editor’s note:

Henry Sheperd Atkinson was born in Harpoot, Turkey on 4 November 1904.  He graduated from Princeton University in 1927, attended Princeton Theological Seminary, 1927-1929, and later, Westminster Theological Seminary, 1931-1932.  He was ordained by the Presbytery of Yellowstone (PCUSA) on 21 June 1929 and served as the pastor of the Treasure County church, Hysham, Montana, 1929-32.  Following his time at Westminster, he then served as pastor of the First Presbyterian church of Wildwood, New Jersey, 1932-1934.  Rev. Atkinson died on 21 June 1934, in Philadelphia.

James Rohrbaugh was born in North Lima, OH on 20 January 1906; educated at Central Wooster College, 1925, Princeton Theological Seminary, Th.B., 1929, Westminster Theological Seminary, Th.M, 1933.  He was licensed and ordained by the Presbytery of New Brunswick, April 1929, and installed as pastor in Ismay, Montana, where he served from 1929-1932.  From 1933-1937, he labored as a missionary in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, before returning to the States to take the pulpit of the Calvary church, Wildwood, New Jersey, 1937-1940.  His next pastorate was with the Manoa UPCNA church, Havertown, Pennsylvania, 1940-1944 and his final pastorate was with the Laurelhurst church, Seattle, Washington, 1944-1976, entering retirement from that post in 1976.  Honors conferred during his lifetime included the Doctor of Divinity degree,  awarded by Sterling College in 1954.  Rev. Rohrbaugh died in Seattle on 29 October 1988.

[Source: Biographical Catalogue of Princeton Theological Seminary, 1998, pp. 52-53.]

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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.

Preaching on the Plains, Chapter Three – Early Training

In Preaching on the Plains, Rev. David K. Myers, D.D. on June 22, 2010 at 8:10 pm

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Preaching on the Plains
Chapter III.

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
(Proverbs 22:6)

Suffer an old man of 77 now to think of a few things about the training of a child toward his life work as a Christian. In fact, the training of his life before he becomes a Christian. I have spoken herein of my mother being a Baptist. She was this, even though she spent her married life as the wife of a Presbyterian elder. The important thing was that she was truly a Christian. From my earliest memory the things she did were to the end of instilling in her children Christian and moral values. I can recall just a scrap of a lullaby she sang to me. It was the story of a lad who wandered to the railroad tracks. I listened always enthralled. The bottom line ended, “He never came back from the railroad track. And that was the end of _____”. The name I do not remember but it rhymed with “track”. It made me dead earnest at that point, I would never go near a railroad track, lest the dire result would come to me also.

One of my earliest memories associated with a church was of one week night when, after being put to sleep, I awoke. I found the house deserted. But I was sure where my parents were! They were not at home so they were at church! So in my white night-gown I sallied forth and faithful old black Joe, the family dog, attended me. And we went the city block or two to the church. We walked in the front door and my memory is the doog and I were greeted with a shout of laughter by the worshippers at the mid week prayer meeting or Sunday night Service whichever it was. As I remember my mother’s face was a deep red as she hurried back, gathered boy of three and the dog and hurried home with us. As recently as last Yuletide a letter came from a long family friend. A very fine Christian whose maiden name was Lazetta Mottashed wrote from Texas and corrected my impression in an earlier greeting to her saying I came that night in a dirty night gown and a dog. But she replied, “No, you had a very clean white gown and a dirty dog!” She spoke of the amusement of all at the scene in an earlier letter.

Now the important part of this was its relationship to moral teaching and the gospel church. It was before me at an early age. My mother never did flippant things in her training us. She was too busy raising four boys for that. And though she was Baptist by conviction, this is one thing of force to me as a Presbyterian. I believe in Infant Baptism; not that it is a saving ordinance in itself. It is not. As Titus 3: 5,6 as quoted on a previous page shows. But because the Lord said in the Great Commission:

“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” (Matthew 28:19)

The word here in the above quotation for “teach” is from the less familiar in the Greek original of that word. it is “mathetuo” – “make disciple of”. The lexicons appear to indicate that it stresses the outward matters of truths to be taught. In other words, just as we endeavor to train our children even in outward duties to show them right from wrong, and the kind of life that is moral, right, and Christian. This we do from the very first with our children and before they reach the age of discretion and can choose salvation through faith. We pray at meal times, saying “grace” . . . I have seen babes as it were in child’s high chairs bowing their heads because they see their parents doing so. “Make disciples”. These the Great Commission tells us to baptize. Now it is plain to me that an adult who is not saved is not a disciple. But a child who has the promise by godly parents that they will bring him up being disciplined and on this basis I believe should receive baptism. And the promise is strong: “and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6). There is every hope the child, when it is older, will become a believer.

These things we have seen in our children. Two, the sons, are ministers of the Gospel. The two others are girls, and are truly saved and believe the gospel. I felt it was necessary to obey the standard our Lord set before the apostles. “Disciple” or teach all nations, baptizing them (who are being taught).

Later in life when Mother was in her eighties, I happened on a visit at home to speak of my views in the matter. When ended my mother said, honestly, “I can’t see it”. I felt glad that while we differed, this was the first time the subject ever arose between us.

Mother was a faithful disciplinarian. When we were young if we misbehaved we could expect consequences. If she felt one of us deserved it, she would punish us duly. Her favorite method was to make us go out and cut a switch from a lilac bush outside the house with which she was to chastise us. And it would never do to pick a small slender one which bent or broke easily. She would make us go out at once and pick another one. I recall that on some occasions if she felt more than one needed chastising, we would get it together. An older brother of mine had a habit of falling down on all fours, feigning at once he was greatly hurt before a blow would be struck, crying out. I would fall with him and I’m afraid I tried a regular trick on him for a while. I would be, too, on my fours, but would creep close to him, thinking his body would be higher and it would protect me from the blows. One time, though, he became aware of this, and thrust me off saying, “Get away there!”

But Mother, if stern and just, was never cruel. The force of her rule in her house was realized by us years later when we were all home together on vacations. The four of us were in quite an argument which waxed rather warm. We did not mind. We were used to it, in fact, I think, liked it. But Mother, hearing us, came into the room and feeling we were out of order, commanded us to desist at once! My eldest brother, I think, was then in his 60s, my two elder below him were in their 50s. I may have been in my late 40s. The eldest was trained in agriculture but had been employed otherwise. The second eldest was a banker, and the third, a teacher. When Mother left the room we laughed to one another, not in ridicule, but because the force of our mother’s discipline had been such that even in such late years, at her command we just stopped automatically. It was custom to us!

Mother lived to 95. She was a happy, contented lady. One of her remarks was, “The Devil does not have any happy old people”. She always carefully picked the churches she would attend, insisting that only those who preached the old time Gospel of Christ, His Redeeming Atonement, and His Resurrection, and His Power to save all who came to Him, would have her support! She was the first one in her father’s family to be converted, but lived to see all her family saved. Her mother was of Pennsylvania Dutch (German) “Dunker” (Baptist) background but married a husband who became an alcoholic. He came to Christ at her leading on his death bed. The training our mother gave us when we were children found all four boys confessed to become Christians. Ernest, the eldest, most conscientious and kind, died last May (1980). He declared he knew the time to the moment when he was saved as a lad. Andrew, a banker in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and Edwin, the teacher — we would all rise up and call our mother blessed, I am sure, together. I say this for I think many would disagree with the methods of discipline who read these memoirs. May I make a gentle assent, however to the diligent discipline of a conscientious mother.

“Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” (Proverbs 22:15)

Preaching on the Plains, Chapter Two – Family Roots

In Preaching on the Plains on June 20, 2010 at 7:13 pm

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by the Rev. David K. Myers, D.D. (1983)

“Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (II Corinthians 5:17).

A new life born into the world is common to all and exciting. I was born in Aurora, Illinois, June 10, 1903, and the youngest of four boys. My father, J. Andrew Myers, was the youngest of his family also. No wonder that his father, who I never saw, was born in Bavaria as long ago as 1822. he and his bride came over in sailing days in 1848. Grandmother insisted on coming to America as a condition of her marriage. She did not want him to be liable to military service. The German areas in those days were divided into separate sovereign states. One could be at the bidding of any princeling. There was, as today, fear of involvement in war. His father had been a corporal in the army under Napoleon. It was the “Grand Armee” which invaded Russia and which suffered terrible hardships and decimation in the retreat from Moscow. He was one of the two percent which still lived and made it home. Bavarians thought that Napoleon would save them (like some who so viewed Hitler later). But my great–grandfather did not live long after that war. His son, my grandfather, had to be the man of the house after he died. When I was an army chaplain after World War II in Germany I saw the very villages, both near each other, where my grandfather, as a boy we’d been told, brought the sheep home from the woods to their home in the evenings.

In America grandfather settled in Goshen, Indiana. For a time he was a police officer. Our home had his headquarters’ chair as an heirloom. Later, he was in a crew of workers which built the Elkhart River Dam near Goshen. Still later, he was paymaster and clerk at the end of rails in the Colorado and New Mexico areas working for the Santa Fe Railroad as it was building on its way to the west coast. My mother and father were natives of Goshen, and moved to Chicago at the time of their marriage (circa 1890). Father had been raised a Methodist, and Mother was a Baptist. They settled in the “Austin” area on Chicago’s west side and were near a newly organized “Faith Presbyterian Church”. Father in time became an Elder and remained one the rest of his life, though his views and practical devotions continued old-time Methodist ideals. His occupation was that of a proof-reader in printing offices. An intense and very hard worker, he would yet tell prospective employers he could not work on Sundays because of his religious convictions. At the same time, he would tell them he was willing to work days and nights on end during the week if they asked him to do so. I recall that he did that and quite often during “rush times”. At best, he would take only cat naps during the long week days and nights of labor. I recall how he would look when he would return Saturday night after an entire week. His face would be white with fatigue. But when next morning came, a Sunday, he would be up early and shouting to us in our bedrooms: “Get up, it’s time to get ready for Sunday School and Church!” he was seeing to it that the entire family, including himself, would be in Sunday School “on time” and also be present for the second Church Service hour. I can remember as a child the long (uninteresting then to me) sermon times.

It was a family pew. Mother was on the inside. Father was on the outside (next to the aisle). We boys were between them and “I couldn’t get out” as I was well aware. The effect of this faithfulness on four boys in later life can be well imagined. Mother said years later that only one of the boys, and then but once, attempted any revision of this program. He got the idea one day that he was going to too many meetings. So he came to Mother with this idea he had cooked up: he offered a compromise. “Mother,” he said, “I believe I go to too many meetings in church.” He enumerated them: Sunday School and Worship Service in the morning followed with Evening Service and Young People’s Meeting at night. And he offered to go to any two of them she would indicate. Mother said she was surprised. It was the first time any of the boys had demurred. The others just went as a matter of course. She said she looked at him and he at her, while he showed no further resentment. He evidently felt he was being reasonable. The she said, “Well _____,” naming him, as long as you are in this house, you belong to us and we belong to you. And you’ll go where we go and do as we do.” She said that was that. He just wen t along to church without any question afterward.

My father regarded his religion as not just a light matter, or carelessly to be observed. They (his duties in his church) were most serious matters. They were not to be lightly attended. Many a man or woman, if they were to work as steadily as he did for a week, would have stayed away from church the following Sunday morning and for less.

Yet father and mother made home life a delight for us. They played games with us. What ‘high times’ we had. We had Carom and Crokinol. Fingers snapping at disks. Father taught us chess from our early years. I won two college tournaments at Wheaton when a young man. We went everywhere our parents went and life was not dull.

Mother did her part. She has first a family begun with my eldest brother, then at my birth a family of six to feed and clothe. She was really able to ‘manage’. Mother and father were tithers. Each week when father brought home his pay, he first put away ten percent of it in a little special drawer. Next day, Sunday, he would take the ten percent out and take it to the church as his offering. This he did in the 1890’s from his first pay after marriage when his weekly income was but $15.00. Then when his pay increased through the years, and with union membership days, his tithe with each payment increased greatly also. Then came the depression days and in older years his eyes gave out so he could not work. But somehow he seemed to be protected even then. With no social security in those days, yet his stocks, investments and real estate property found him just seeming to do the right thing at the right time.

I have heard him give his testimony to young men who were neighbors, that he believed God took care of him because he was a Christian and a tither (Malachi Chapter 3 and I Corinthians 16:2).

Mother’s partnership was to think out house investments and conserve. The first house was on Augusta Street (now a boulevard), east of Pine just where the land dropped as if it were an old shore line. The house had an upstairs (“flat”) where the rent from another family helped pay for the house. Then there was another house purchased and another, and in her old age Mother had four houses. She could point to the fact that all four boys had received college educations. One, a grad of Missouri U., was an agricultural student. He had differing employments later in life, but always could make things just spring out of the ground. His farm near Bangor, Michigan provided a home for his parents to live in their old age. The second son, who sent west seeking help in lung illness at 20 became a banker-lawyer in Las Vegas, New Mexico. The third became a chemistry teacher in Chicago’s Carl Shurz High School.

Mother was never for spending unnecessarily, but insisted on living very frugally. Yet besides her care for us even into our twenties, she left each of the four boys a sizable sum at her death in her will. I have often heard my mother speak of those who clad themselves in silk (rich attire in the early 1900’s), but would have little left. She did not depend on her clothes or new clothes or hats for her pleasing, vivacious appearance or manners.

The secret of it all concerning Mother was that she was truly a converted woman in her faith. Early in her teens she had sought salvation. A gospel tract, “God’s Plan of Salvation”, by Dr. B. B. Warfield of old Princeton Seminary in its original Fundamentalist days, came to her attention. As a high school girl, my mother felt it was used to encourage her and lead her to Christ. Finally, the word in John 7:17 was hers which reads, “If any man will to do His will he shall know of the doctrine”. She was willing to do His will. John 6:37 was her experience. She had come to her Saviour!

Because I had such a father and mother, I am sure the way for me to come to Christ was well prepared. I was brought to the saving grace of God at the age of 15. Things happened this way. In my steady attendance with parents who always brought me to church, I was there one Sunday morning when the pastor, Rev. Clyde L. Lucas, preached a sermon on Hell. He believed it was in the Bible and that to be balanced in preaching he should preach a sermon on Hell that Sunday. From that day I took serious note of what the preacher would be saying. I did not want to go to Hell. I wanted to go to Heaven instead! Then too, many people were joining the church in those days. The church was full of people. One day I thought, noting people from time to time joined the church, “Well, I will join the church, then I will go to heaven”. I did join the church. I told my father, “Father, I want to join the church”. I remember the look of joy on my father’s face. But he was faithful for he said, “You want to become a Christian, do you, David?” He took me to the Pastor, and then to meet also the Elders in the “Session”. I remember their questions, and how it was feeling fearful my answers would not be rightly given. But somehow I got by. The baptism was a following Sunday at age 14, and the being received into the church. I can still remember the embarrassment before the very full church. But, I am sure as I write this that I was not saved, nor had truly come to Christ. The Word of God says in Titus 3: 5,6:

“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour;”

And here I was, trying to do something, i.e., joining the church to be saved.

It was not until the following summer, inn 1918, when fifteen years of age, Mother took me to the Moody Church Bible Conference grounds at Cedar Lake, Indiana, when saving grace came to me. One Sunday morning I heard Dr. Paul Rader preach on the Love of God the Father, to give His Son to die on the Cross for our sins. The boy beside me, my own age, at the invitation to come to Christ, looked up at me and said, “Let’s go up”. I said at once, “No!” He just looked terribly disappointed. At that I was terribly concerned. I could have perhaps stood it to take the risk of going to Hell myself, but the thought that I was influencing him by my refusal so that two of us would go to Hell, I could not stand. I said to him, “All right.” He eagerly led the way into the sawdust trail aisle, and we went forward to kneel. I am sure it was not doing anything just then that made the difference, but a receiving of Christ. I recall the settled peace that was mine. That night in the sleeping tent, I heard a Christian pleading with another, an older man, and I recall how anxious I was that the man would yield but he would not, and how sorry I was that he rejected Christ and ridiculed and jeered.

I knew what side I was on from that time forth from it. “. . . if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold all things are become new.”  They were passed away from that time, and new things were ahead.

Preaching on the Plains, Chapter One – First Preaching

In Preaching on the Plains on June 12, 2010 at 9:15 pm

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Preaching on the Plains, by David K. Myers, D.D.

Chapter 1

“He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed,
shall doubtless come again with rejoicing,
bringing his sheaves with him.”
(Psalm 126:6)

The year was 1927 and the month was May. A young man in his mid-twenties was on the trailing, New England train bound for Nova Scotia. It had left Boston to the south, and hugging somewhat the Atlantic Coast, the state of Maine was passed and the high watery gorge at the border city of St. John’s New Brunswick. Then rolling above the northern reach of the Bay of Fundy, the steam train came to the charming city of Truro, Nova Scotia. De-training at this point, the young man entered the combined mail and passenger carrying auto. In this he began to see the sights of the picturesque western shore of Minas Basin and in time was brought to his journey’s end, the village of Economy.

Minas Basin is a beautiful and historic inlet from the Atlantic Ocean. Its tides flow through a narrow defile to a broadpointed gulf. These tides wash even to a point near Truro. On its eastern shore across from Economy is the site of Grand Prez from whence French settlers had been cruelly expelled at the time of the French and Indian wars for Canada. The region was called Acadia, as is also an area of Louisiana today, to which some of the expelled were taken by the British. Longfellow celebrated this sad event in his “Evangeline”.

As one traveled and approached Economy, he could still see the old French dikes bordering creeks and marshy lands. Some could still be seen sturdy after two centuries or more. They seemed to be in surprisingly good condition showing the faithful labors in their construction long ago.

Passing Bass River, a furniture town, Economy was soon seen to the south in a pastoral setting such as all the coastal areas had revealed. Yet spring weather had hardly released this northern clime from its winter cold. Small pastures, trees and bay brought beauty to one’s eyes everywhere.

The young man fancies a legend concerning the name, “Economy”. It is that the place was called by the Indians, “Oconomo”. When the French came it was “Oicionomoi”. Then the Scottish settlers came and it was, “Economy”. While the writer does not vouch for the truth of these statements, the concoctions of his own fertile mind; still, after marriage to his faithful wife he first met in Edinburgh, Scotland, nearly fifty years ago (1931), he can state that the word and practice of economy is a good name for one’s habits or for a village in Nova Scotia.

Now it may be fairly guessed that the young man described above is the writer of this record, Preaching on the Plains. Hereafter he plans to take the liberty of writing in the first person. While he is writing he is far from the Great Plains of the American West where a good deal of his ministry was to be. And Economy, Nova Scotia, in this point in the narrative, was also distant from the same region. But he believes it was a most helpful place for the beginning of his ministry. It will be described in this and a following chapter.

A “student minister”, for that was my status, is not an ordained minister. He cannot marry any one, but he can officiate at burial ceremonies. He is expected to visit the people of a church or preaching field. Where it is needed he is also expected to preach according to his best efforts although his training is still limited in scope. Often, students from Bible Colleges, Institutes or Seminaries were so employed summer vacations, or during the year’s academic periods within reach of the schools they were attending.

At the time related above, a request had come to the Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey, asking for twenty students to come to Maritime churches that adhered to the Presbyterian faith. Most of us were ‘Juniors’ or first year men at Seminary. I saw the request listed on the bulletin board. My first thought was to pass it by. I felt I was far short of being equipped to preach. While the greatest of teachers were our mentors — such as Drs. Robert Dick Wilson (Hebrew), J. Gresham Machen (Greek), Caspar Wistar Hodge (Systematic Theology) — I felt short of training, or adequate to care for a church, or to preach for twenty summer weeks. (It is to be said that no one is ever sufficient “of ourselves”, II Corinthians 3:5, 6. Paul, too, had said before, “And who is sufficient for these things?”, II Corinthians 2:16).

But I noticed that the bulletin board did not fill up with twenty volunteers and began to feel for the Canadian churches. They were then like Fundamentalists. They did not go into the liberal and ecumenical United Church of Canada. At that time in Economy they were old time Scot Presbyterian laymen who wished to preserve their heritage. And they believed in the verbal inspiration of Holy Scripture. I finally said to myself, “Well, I am not sure even if I am to become a minister in my life. But at least I could go up there and give them my testimony; and would not that be better than if a church had nobody at all?

That effort, for five months the summer of 1927, proved to be just about the hardest thing I had ever tried to do! My sermons were largely the product of studying a word from a Bible Concordance (Strongs). They were such words as “faith” and “repentance”. The concordance had many references of such words. I would look them all up and put them down. Then my problem was to arrange them in a logical and meaningful pattern. Now having not then learned to speak from an outline, and fearful later of forgetting what was in my prepared message, I would commit to memory, word for word, the written sermon. In my mind I imagined a situation might come when the next word in line would be forgotten and this would cause me to forget the entire message! This would leave me entirely lost, ashamed, undone.

Later in the summer, that fear seemed to be very present in actual fulfillment, indeed. A period of illness came one week, and so time was lost preparing and memorizing the sermon for the Sunday following. The morning came, however fearful to face it, with an ill memorized sermon. I harnessed “Billy G.”, Elder Soley’s retired race horse, to the buggy. This task was new to a city-raised lad. Feeling very uncertain, I drove to Lower Economy where the smaller of the two churches had an early morning service. I laid my written sermon on the pulpit. It was the first time I had let one appear, but felt that while I’d be humiliated to do it, yet if memory failed, I might refer to the written paper. Well, in the opening part of the service, the usually calm morning found a sudden gust of wind come. Windows were open at each side of the platform, and the sudden blast just blew my sermon right out of the window. I was aghast. Do not recall how I did it, but somehow I got through that sermon.

Vivid is the recollection of my first sermon. It was the first I had ever preached in a church and was in the main Economy church. The edifice was a very large and impressive building. Battlements were atop the entrance tower. At an earlier period when the country was full of people, no doubt the church had a large congregation. They had had eminent pastors. But many, especially young people, left for other areas such as Boston for employment. When I arrived at the church, services were planned that Sunday in a smaller room in an annex at the rear of the large auditorium. It could be heated more easily. The winter’s cold was still felt in that north country. Men in charge asked me if I wished the large pulpit moved from the main auditorium to the small room. It was huge but I said, “Yes”. (It seemed to have large, protective flanges and in my state of mind it seemed to be a safer place to be for a novice like myself!).

Then news came which was unsettling. The organist could not come because of illness. This seemed disastrous. In those days I did not claim to be much a singer for my voice seemed to be quite flat and nasal to me. Nevertheless, the service was begun without an organ as I announced the first “congregational hymn”. To my great surprise I found myself singing a solo, and that without musical accompaniment. Then followed in order the other parts of the worship service and just before the sermon was the second congregational hymn. For this, one other voice, an alto, joined mine and thus it was a duet, really. Since that time I have thought it quite possible that the hymns I chose were unfamiliar to the congregation. I learned later that these descendants of Scottish ancestors were not people of pretense. They were a most kindly folk, but if some of them felt they were not singers, I suppose they did not try to sing, certainly if unfamiliar numbers. Then followed the moment of truth: the delivery of the sermon!

At this time I recall a particularly needed blessing and impression came to me. It was almost as if a voice was speaking to me and saying, “Now you are all right, just go ahead”. I gave out the text, “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?”. It was the story of the two to Emmaus who met the Saviour on the morning of the resurrection. But they knew him not and heard him say these words and others which opened their eyes and their understanding, Luke 24:26ff. It may be that the comforting impression at the beginning of the sermon was part of my mother’s advice, repeated in my mind to me. I had once told her of my forebodings if I were ever called upon to preach. Her advice was to, “Just hide behind the cross.”

I did preach that morning in Economy. At the end of the sermon a fair and goodly number joined in the singing of the last hymn. At the Isaiah Morrison home for the noon meal, I felt anxious how the sermon was really received. A telephone rang and it was for me. The caller was a visitor who had been at the service, a native son now of middle age returning for a vacation to his home country. He asked me in his call to tell him the chapter and verse of the sermon text. It gave me instant elation and relief. At least one person in the congregation was interested enough to ask for the text. Since that time I have thought it quite likely he made that call in order to encourage a very young and inexperienced preacher. Folk told me later that summer that at that service they just knew it was the very first sermon I had ever preached. They were a gracious people. They called me the “little minister”. Though 5′ 10″ in height, I was slight and was indeed little in more way than one.

That summer I met some of the captains of ships in the earlier days of sail. A number of these ship-masters were still living and in Economy. Isaiah Morrison was one, where I boarded. He and others of the captains told me that I ought to meet Captain Bird Marsh! I imagine he had commanded one of the famed “clipper” ships. He was 90 years old and dean of them all. He and his kind were to soon pass from this world. I went to his home very soon. He met me at his gate, a little man with sky blue eyes and a sweet face. I said to him I had heard him well spoken of as a man of ability as a ship’s master. His answer was, “For fifty years I sailed the high seas. I never lost a ship; I never lost a man. I I had a Pilot!” As he spoke the last words he pointed to the heavens.

Some weeks later I made a second visit to the captain’s home. He invited me into his living room. In the course of the conversation he spoke of his experience at one time in a typhoon in the China Sea. In the fury of the storm he went “below” (like Paul long ago). He came on deck, above, after his prayers and saw a light at a course ahead of the ship. He added, “Now you may not believe me, Mr. Myers, but I was there! I just turned the ship into the path of that light and it brought me safely into my harbor.” I believed him.

Tears were moistening the eyes of the elderly Morrison’s and to my surprise as I was bidding them goodbye. I am sure now it was because of their Christian and mature kindliness and love in Christ for a somewhat shaky and scared lad with whom they bore patiently and cared for as an alien, and I must say I felt most unworthy for their gracious thought for me. Mature Christians they were and Mrs. Morrison then said, “They never forget their first love.” (I take it she meant that a young minister never forgets his first church). And I never have!