TWENTY-FIVE YEARS IN A DAYTON PULPIT
A Sermon Preached by the
Rev. Dr. Maurice E. Wilson
Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church
March 21, 1915
Printed by the Congregation
Text: Acts 20: 24. The ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.
One day toward the end of December, 1889, the postman brought to our home in Baltimore a letter from Dayton, Ohio, which I still preserve. That letter informed me that the pulpit of the First Presbyterian Church of this city was vacant, and that President Scovel, of Wooster, had mentioned my name to the committee on securing a pastor. The writer was Colonel E. A. Parrott, and he concluded by inviting me to preach here on Sunday, January 12th, 1890. Dr. Scovel had made this suggestion on his own volition. I appreciated his kindness and accepted the invitation, al-though I had no special desire to come to Dayton to live. I preached on the date mentioned, both morning and evening. The weather was atrocious, and the congregations small. The people I met were extremely cordial, and I returned home with pleasant recollections of their kindness, but dismissed all thought of the pastorate. Shortly another letter reached me inviting me to preach a second Sabbath. This I declined to do, and expressed the hope that the church would soon find the right man for this pulpit. After the lapse of a couple of weeks I received word of a unanimous call, soon followed by other letters. These all were rich in promises of hearty support in the work, should I accept. I was not long in deciding to come to Dayton. The breaking of the pastoral ties in Baltimore called out the affections of that congregation in an unexpected degree, and it was no easy task to sever relationships so strongly established in my native city.
We arrived here, a family of three, on Saturday evening, March 22nd, and received a most delightful welcome from members of the Committee, who met us at Xenia, and at the station. We were the guests of Col. Parrott and his family for several days, until our home was established and equipped in the Manse.
On Sunday morning, March 23rd, 1890, twenty-five years ago next Tuesday, I preached my first sermon as pastor-elect of this congregation, and the formal work of my pastorate here began.
It will not be possible, of course, to do more than touch on a few points of the history in this discourse. It is also to be under-stood, I need hardly say, that the work and growth of this congregation during these years is not attributed to me personally, but is viewed as the joint work of pastor and people under the guidance and blessing of God.
I. Let us begin with the growth of the church. At the beginning of this pastorate the membership of the church was 241; next month we shall report to Presbytery in round numbers 600, so that it has doubled with about 120 to spare. The whole of accessions received in the one hundred communions held in this time is 808, 403 on confession and 405 on certificate, an average of 8 at each communion, or 82 a year. The youngest person received on confession of faith was 12 years of age, and the oldest was 78. The average age was 22½, which is considerably higher than the average age in most churches. After careful scrutiny of the period at which three-fourths of these persons united with the church I find that 44 were between 20 and 30; 39 were between 80 and 78. Eighty-three persons were 20 years old and upward. Which reveals the interesting fact that two-thirds of those who made a public confession of Christ did so between the ages of 12 and 19. And that is a revelation of the wisdom of the ancient injunction, "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth!" Adding the 241 on the roll at the beginning to the 808 that have been received gives 1,049 as the total number of members on the roll during this pastorate to date. Subtracting the 600 present members leaves 449 as the number that have been removed from the roll by dismission, death and excision. Of our 241 communicants 25 years ago, we have 84 still with us.
Included in this 808 accessions are 182 persons received through the work at Bethel Chapel, now located in North Dayton, being 162 on confession and 20 on certificate. Of our present membership of 600 there are 109 on the Bethel Chapel roll. The first accessions to our membership through that agency were received in November, 1894. During this period we have received from various churches of our city, on certificate, 102 persons, and dismissed 40.
Turning to the financial history of the church, I find that the year preceding the beginning of this pastorate the congregation gave to benevolences and to congregational expenses the sum of $6,607. A carefully compiled table shows that our gifts have risen, to an average of $12,439 per year during the twenty-five years. During the same time the total congregational expenditures have been $202,163 and the benevolences have been $108,825. The grand total of all contributions for the pastorate is $310,988. This financial growth fully matches our spiritual fruitfulness. The congregational expenses have as a rule been met promptly. Some pastors are greatly worried and burdened with unpaid salary, but the pastor of this church has never had a moment of uncertainty or delay in this matter.
It may he of interest to state that I have preached in this pulpit about twenty-two hundred times, conducted prayer-meeting over one thousand times and held one hundred communions. I have written 1,411 sermons, and preached frequently from notes only, all of them poor enough in quality according to my own ideal, and of some of them I have been sincerely ashamed. I never have been able to preach the sermon I wanted to preach. Yet I never have lacked abundant and hearty appreciation and encouragement, even in my poorest work. It has been my aim to make useful rather than showy sermons, and I am thankful for whatever success has attended this part of my toil.
Little can, be said of my pastoral work, as I have no record at all of the first half of it, and but scanty records of the latter half. I know, however, that I have tramped over the streets of Dayton, many, many times—north, south, east and west. I have been as punctilious as possible in visiting all the families of this congregation with due regularity, besides the special visits due to illness and other causes, and all these would total at least eight thousand calls. I have been with you in sorrow and in joy, have been called upon for consultation and help in many personal matters, and have been let into the inmost secrets of some of your lives, most of which have been entrusted to me in the most sacred confidence.
Now, these statistics of work and growth are only a mechanical exhibition of our activities and their results; they do not penetrate to the spiritual essence and life of the church. No statistics could be presented of the prayers that have been offered and the hymns that have been sung, the inner aspiration and struggle by which souls have been born, and the delightful friendship and fellowship we have mutually enjoyed; much less could we catalogue the manifold blessings and goodness of our God. These things can no more be tabulated than we can count the stars or compute the number of the sun's golden beams. The story of the human heart can never be written, and these inner experiences and treasures of our history are too subtle to be caught and registered.
II. The following record of the Elders and Deacons that have served in the time of this pastorate is an essential part of the story. At the time of my coming the Elders were William A. Barnett, Charles U. Raymond, Edwin A. Parrott, James F. Perrine and John F. Edgar (Emeritus). Additional Elders have been installed as follows: April 27th, 1890, Joseph D. Dubois, David W. Stewart and James T. Tuttle; April 9th, 1899, Edward Breneman and Chas. J. Moore; April 12th, 1908, William E. Day and A. M. Kittredge; April 10th, 1910, William S. Forshee; April 19th, 1914, Clement R. Gilmore, Donald A. Kohr and Alfred Swift Frank. The Deacons at my coming were: Joseph D. Dubois, William A. Phelps and Wm. G. Young. Additional Deacons have been installed as follows: May 4th, 1890, Thomas E. Boerstler and Charles J. Moore; May 31st, 1891, William P. Breneman and Rolla B. Moodie; April 24th, 1892, S. B. Bigger; April 29th, 1894, F. S. Gardner; May 2nd, 1897, Frank Bruen and 0. H. Starner; April 17th, 1898, Geo. T. Brandon; April 16th, 1899, William E. Day, S. A. Dickson and Herbert C. Robison; May 5th, 1901, H. A. Kilbourne; April 16th, 1905, 0. C. Graves; April 22nd, 1906, H. G. Kittredge; April 14th, 1907, H. C. Andrews; April 26th, 1908, A. D. Black; April 17th, 1910, Donald A. Kohr and Samuel Kress; April 23rd, 1911, Robt. C. Patterson; April 21st, 1912, Alfred Swift Frank; May 18th, 1913, S. L. Pinkerton; April 26th, 1914, Ernest T. Huston and Jamse J. Pocock.
The following Trustees have served the congregation during this period: Messrs. Houston Lowe, Wm. Craighead, Newton Thacker, Horace McDermont, Edward Breneman, Thos. B. Reynolds, N. P. Ramsey, Chas. G. Stoddard, 0. P. Boyer, Rolla B. Moodie, Wm. Hardie, Dr. J. M. Weaver, S. A. Dickson, C. R. Gilmore, Geo. G. Shaw, Donald A. Kohr, H. C. Robison, Jas. W. Rice, Wm. E. Best and Bartlett Whitteker.
Treasurers, Messrs. John R. More, H. B. Walker and S. B. Bigger.
As to the other officers of the church and Sunday-school I can only mention the remarkable record of Mr. Jas. F. Perrine, who served as Superintendent of our School for a quarter of a century, and Mr. Breneman for almost the same length of time as Assistant Superintendent and Chorister.
III. I next touch on the chief events in our congregational history. There have been few of these, and if the happiest nation is the one that has the least history—that is, the least stirring spectacular history punctuated with such events as war—then our uneventful history in these twenty-five years is our good fortune No division or other distraction has ever troubled us, and our annals have flowed along in uninterrupted tranquility.
On the evening of Wednesday, May l4th., 1890, I was installed as pastor, and at this service the Rev. Dr. S. F. Scovel, President of Wooster College, preached the sermon. The Rev. Dr. A. A. Willits, pastor of the Third Street Church, and Apostle of Sunshine, delivered the charge to the pastor, and the Rev J. C. Ely pastor of our church in Xenia, delivered the charge to the people.
In 1893 some of our young people began a Mission Sunday School in the second story of Wight and Son's office at Monument Avenue and Sears Street. This movement was the result of some prayer-meetings held in an old house boat on the canal in that locality, the next year the entire building was occupied, and it became an established Mission. In 1899, as the result of a sermon in which the pastor made an appeal for $3,500 to buy this property the money was promptly subscribed and the purchase made this was the first step in the celebration of our centenary.
In December, 1899, we celebrated the Centenary of this Church which had been founded only three years after the beginning of Dayton. This was probably the most interesting event in the religious history of the city. The devotional and historical services were of a high order, and were enjoyed by enthusiastic audiences. who were inspired and instructed. The sermon Sabbath moraine was preached by the Rev. Prof. J. Ross Stevenson, D. D., now President of Princeton Theological Seminary, and in the evening an address was delivered by the Rev. Dr. Wm. McKibbin, now President of Lane Theological Seminary. Monday evening was devoted entirely 10 the history of the one hundred years, and was a feast of memories. Papers were read by Col. E. A. Parrott, Mrs. Annie Conover Phelps, Miss Isabel R. Edgar and the Rev. Dr. Jno. H. Thomas. Tuesday evening was a veritable Presbyterian "love feast. Brief congratulatory addresses were delivered by the Moderator of the Presbytery, and various city pastors. Following these a reception was held in the lecture and social rooms, which was largely attended, and a bountiful collation was served by the Church Society. The entire edifice, tastefully decorated, was thrown open during the three days devoted to the celebration, and citizens and strangers were welcomed in the most hospitable manner. The Centenary Souvenir, a volume containing an account of these commemorative proceedings as well as the addresses, was published and may still be had as long as they last, for the asking. The present year marks the 116th anniversary of the founding of the church.
In 1911 our Monument Avenue property was sold, and two lots purchased on the corner of Webster and Herbert Streets A handsome chapel was erected at an expenditure of $12,000, including furnishings and equipment. This sum was the result of individual contributions by the members of our church, plus the result of the sale mentioned and a bequest. The Bethel Chapel work is now in charge of the Rev. F. J. Compson.
In common with a number of other churches in the city our building suffered dreadful devastation at the time of the flood two years ago. Few others, indeed, were so badly wrecked. It was necessary to put an entire new floor in the auditorium, and to take down and rebuild our organ, as well as to repair damages of a minor character suffered by the furniture and equipment through-out. But our membership responded splendidly and provided all the necessary funds, amounting to almost $12,000.
IV. I must now begin to condense into brief paragraphs a number of topics that would easily consume more time than I have at my command. The general work of the church as carried on by the people would be a large topic in itself. The Sunday School, while never large for the membership of the church, has yet always been efficiently conducted in the hands of faithful officers and teachers. The young people have flowed in a steady stream into the full membership of the church, owing very largely to the fact that our Sunday School has never failed to keep this duty and privilege before them. The chief end of the School has never been ignored in our case. This has always been a great encouragement and comfort to the pastor, and has contributed to the strength and fruitfulness of the church.
The various missionary societies and organizations have been active and highly efficient agencies in this field of service, and their lines have literally gone out to all the ends of the earth. The Church Society has accomplished an immense amount of work through this entire period of history in raising money for every enterprise to which it devoted its energies; and there is yet very much work for it, which it can be depended on to do with success and hearty good-will.
The activities of the people of this congregation during these twenty-five years make a tremendous aggregate of work beyond my power to know or express. We have had many efficient and faithful, energetic and enthusiastic laborers here who have wrought with one mind and heart. It has been an abundant and splendid free service and in many cases sacrifice on the part of this people, an expression of their faith in and devotion to their Lord.
V. The deaths and weddings of this pastorate are large chapters, bordered with black and bright with joy, which cannot be here opened. I have conducted 257 funerals and officiated at 262 weddings during these twenty-five years. A great amount of history, much of it very sacred and tender, is contained in the record books in which these events have been set down. Every page tells me of something that is interesting, precious, sorrowful or joyful, the things that enter most deeply and vitally into one’s life and make it worthwhile—the treasures of the memory and the heart.
I cannot even mention the names of our sainted dead, but I must refer to our deceased elders and deacons. The first elder to pass away in this pastorate was Joseph D. Dubois, who died May 5th, 1905. John F. Edgar died August 15th, 1905, at the great age of 90 years and 9 months. William A. Barnett died April 23rd, 1907, and David W. Stewart May 22nd, 1914. The last among these names, and one who has only just left us, was Edward Breneman, who died February 7th, 1915. The first of our deacons to pass away was William A. Phelps, who died May 31st, 1901. The second, Samuel A. Dickson, June 4th., 1906. The last among these names was Rolla B. Moodie, who died September 28th., 1909. All these names are precious to us, and their memories blossom from the dust. Such men are the strength of the Church, the defence of our faith, and the assurance of our final victory.
VI. A great deal could be said on the harmony that has prevailed among us during these years, but it will be sufficient to refer to it briefly. The Session has been a group of personal friends, concordant in mind, delightful in fellowship, and ever watchful against unkind or sharp words. We never seriously differed even in our discussions, and always came to a harmonious if not unanimous conclusion. That a group of men with marked individuality of character should thus associate and do business together for twenty-five years in such harmony is a remarkable record. And I am able to say virtually the same thing regarding our Deacons and our Trustees. The spirit of true, sincere brotherhood has always prevailed in these boards. This same harmony has obtained between pastor and people. Nothing has ever occurred to my knowledge to strain our relations. Uniform kindness and courtesy, patience and goodwill, loyal sympathy and support, have been my encouragement and joy during these years. And the same harmony has united the people among themselves. You have wrought here with one mind and heart, every movement and activity of the church has received your united sympathy and support. If there are any exceptions to this statement, they are so few and insignificant as to be entirely negligible. In a singular and phenomenal degree we have illustrated and experienced the blessing, "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!"
So much for the retrospect, which has occupied almost the whole of my time. The future of this church is secure. But what about our own future? Let us make this next year the best of all. Think of the text: "This ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the Gospel of the grace of God." Not everything that is called Gospel is Gospel. I do not know how you feel, but I am tired of hearing about social gospels, ethical gospels, political gospels. It is a wicked use to make of that magnificent name. It is dragging it into the mire. There is only one Gospel, and that is "the Gospel of the grace of God."
It may have been a shameful waste of time, but I have always made it my business to investigate thoroughly every religious fad that has appeared above the horizon since I have been in the ministry. I have felt it a duty to do this. And there is not one of them but contradicts the teaching of Jesus Christ. They all are the inventions of men and women—little systems that will have their day, and cease to be. There is only one standard of measurement in the religious world, and that is the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. To diverge from that standard is to wander from the path "which shineth more and more unto the perfect day."
"The gospel of the grace of God"—it is this I have preached to you. And it is this I shall continue to preach to you so long as I preach to you at all. Concerning some things my views have changed radically in the past twenty-five years. Regarding some of them I have grown more liberal, and regarding others less so. But these changes have taken place in respect of non-essentials.
The great fundamental truths of the Gospel of Christ, held and proclaimed by the mighty evangelical churches of Christendom, including the Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic churches, these no man, can set aside and still claim to be a minister of "the Gospel of the grace of God." These fundamental truths that lie embedded in the Apostles' Creed, I believe with all my heart, and stand ready to defend with every ounce of energy at my command.
Paul says in the text, "I testify." What is the meaning of that word "testify"? To bear personal testimony through personal knowledge. You must be positive if you are going to save sinners and help men and women. A great orator may delight his congregation; a great philosopher may muddle his congregation; it is only the great witness, who can say "I know", who will bring men and women into the Kingdom of God.
And you know all this as well as I do. These concluding words are only a reminder, "to stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance." I appeal to all those of you who are already members of this church to give yourselves anew, with me, to the work involved in teaching and living "the Gospel of the grace of God." Let us vat be satisfied with anything done in the past. Let us "press forward to the mark of our high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
And if there are any here this morning who love Christ, but never have CONFESSED Him and given themselves to His service, my concluding appeal is to you. "The Gospel of the grace of God" will be sufficient for you, too, as it has been for all the noble men and women who have trod these aisles, sat in these pews and sought to serve their Lord. I invite you to come today, this morning. Accept Christ, give Him your oath of allegiance, and become His friend, follower and co-laborer forever more. Begin this new year with us who are able to testify to you concerning "the Gospel of the grace of God." The fairest message in all the world, the grandest message is this which I bring you this morning. But it will be of no' use to you unless you believe it and receive it. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him might not perish, but have everlasting life."
"Just as I am without one plea
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
0 Lamb of God, I come, I come."
February 24, 1919
Between March 21st., 1915, when the foregoing history was presented, and February 23rd., 1919, when this pastorate was terminated, there were added to the church on confession 31 persons, and on certificate 43 persons.
The additions to the chapel numbered, on confession 71 and on certificate 3.
Deducting the losses by death, dismissal and excision, the membership on the above date was 665.
The following Deacons were ordained and installed during this period: Frank K. Runyan, April 25th., 1915; Rowland H. McKee, May 7th., 1916; H. C. Wight, April 22nd., 1917; W. A. Drake and H. G. Kemper, May 26th., 1918. Messrs. Samuel Kress and E. C. Patterson were installed May 7th, 1916 and May 26th, 1918, respectively, both having served the congregation formerly.
Mr. James W. Rice and Dr. Geo. W. Miller were added to the Board of Trustees; and Mr. Rice succeeded Mr. S. B. Bigger as Treasurer of the Congregation.
In August, 1915, Mr. Irvin S. Hampton was chosen to succeed Mr. Compson as Pastor of Bethel Chapel and served one year and four months. At the expiration of this term the Rev. H. K. Miller accepted an invitation to the pastorate and began his duties in January, 1917. It is due Mr. Miller to say that his ministry has been most acceptable and highly successful. His earnest gospel preaching, his diligence as a pastor, and his ability as an organizer and administrator, have by the grace of God brought to the chapel work a degree of growth and prosperity that is truly gratifying.