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Struggle for an Education

By Elmer Ellsworth Shelhamer


      Enters College -- "Bachelor's Hall" -- Loses the Fire -- The "Close-Class Meeting" -- The Outcome.

      Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord. Rom. 12:11.

      The education of our youth is becoming a great problem to conscientious parents. The fact is, in most of our public schools the morals are so corrupt that they poison the mind of a child before he is ten years of age. The writer has personal knowledge of a little girl (daughter of prominent holiness parents) who came home one evening from school and said, "Mama, I've got a beau." Then to clinch it, continued: "You know you said I could do as the other girls when I was ten years old, and I am ten today." It is hard to say which of the two, the mother or the child, needed the severer rebuke. No wonder John Wesley said, "You might as well send a child to the devil as to send him to the public school."

      This is an alarming condition of things, but what is more, is that many of our religious schools seem little better. Can this be proven? Let us see! Every unbiased mind who is in a position to know will admit that many of these so-called holiness schools are not pronounced against the first approaches of fashion, foolishness and flirting. Is it not too often the case that after a term there, a young person returns home more capable than before of reasoning away past light and convictions; or, worse still, professing a tame, sickly type of religion? If he were formerly very conscientious along the finer lines of holy living, the tendency is to broaden him and rob him of his original, heaven-born views. The result is, he would rather mingle with semi-worldly holiness people than the despised few, and he is wont to criticize the old-fashioned saints as being "back numbers" and not "up-to-date."

      Most young people are not able to withstand the subtle influences of "backslidden respectability." And when they see the teachers given to more or less worldliness and formality, yet amiable and refined, it is natural to pattern after and quote them rather than those who are a terror to evil doers.

      Of course this is not the case in a non-religious school. There a young Christian soon becomes a "speckled bird" and every one knows his position. It may mean isolation or persecution, but this will put him on his guard and develop sturdiness of character more than a compromise spirit. The fact is that sooner or later he must rub against and grapple with the spirit of this old world, and the sooner he (through grace) masters it, the sooner he will amount to something.

      True, the means of grace and good influences must not be discounted, but on the other hand if the martyr stuff is in a youth he is bound to succeed though in a non-religious school or community. His feet may be knocked from under him once or twice, but up he will get, not to fall over the same thing again. He who is dependent upon favorable circumstances to succeed on any line will always be a weakling. Hence, unless a student maintains a fixedness of purpose to withstand open wickedness on the one hand and compromise on the other, he will surely go under, whether in a public school or holiness college. As the writer has had a little practical experience along this line, he trusts he does not speak unadvisedly.

      After earning enough to go West, I for the first time, bade good-bye to home and friends. A day and night of travel brought me to the city of Wheaton, Illinois (twenty-five miles west of Chicago), where preparations were begun for that long-cherished education. In order to lessen expenses four of us preacher boys kept "bachelor's hall" the first year. One got breakfast, another dinner, I supper, and a fourth one washed all the dishes. In this way we were able to live at the rate of from thirty-five cents to $1.50 a week and grow fat. My first recitation came at 9:30 a. m., hence it gave me five hours (from 4 a. m. to 9 o'clock) for manual labor; then another hour in the afternoon and all day Saturday.

      I always kept several small jobs ahead for slack times, and averaged from $2.00 to $6.00 a week. The studying was done at night, sometimes 11:30 finding me poring over my books. The other boys could not understand why they could not get work while I had more than I could do, but the secret was in leaving white cuffs at home and going prepared to take anything I could get. Sometimes I got the promise of only an hour's work, but went at it with a relish and frequently got in a day or more at that same place. Any kind of work was solicited, such as gardening, whipping carpets, mowing lawns, trimming trees, sawing wood, unloading cars, cleaning out cisterns and sometimes other very unpleasant work, but I was determined to make the best of it and not let my father borrow money or sell a horse or cow, which would have been gladly done that he might assist me. I declared that if a boy at the age of seventeen could not educate and care for himself, he was not worth educating.

      The following summer I traveled in Iowa, and made good money, but when I returned, with all expenses met, I had less than five dollars to apply on another year's expenses. What should I do; back out, write home for help, or buckle into it again for another year? The members of the faculty advised me to stick to it and accordingly I did, went through, passed every examination, and came out in the spring with ten dollars in cash, more clothes and better health than ever in the past. I speak of this simply to encourage others to master every difficulty, surmount every obstacle and insist on getting through the world, without begging, or selling principle. There is an honest way to succeed. I could have borrowed money without interest from the college fund as others did, but! declined.

      I now wish to speak of my struggle against the encroachments of a worldly, popular spirit in school life. I found this a first-class place either to grow in grace or to lose the fire. During the first year I succeeded in keeping on top, though of course I was more or less isolated. The next year different tactics were employed and I found myself being complimented and sought after. Unconsciously I succumbed and lost the keen edge which previously had made me a constant reproof to worldlings and compromisers. I tried to console myself with the thought that I had just gotten out of a little narrow rut and was now merging into a broader field of thought and usefulness. Nevertheless, some of the students said, "You do not get us under conviction as you did the first year." I continued" to take active part in and lead religious services, and one Sabbath morning, walked to Glen Ellyn, two and one-half miles, where was a little white church, and after entering, found myself in an old-fashioned close class-meeting. Some of those who were questioned became angry and answered back, while others left the house. I thought to myself, "This is a hot meeting, but I will not leave, nor resent, but meet the issue." So I arose and said, "I doubt if my experience will stand close questioning. I am saved from all outward sin, but have been attending school, and little by little have come to live on the same plane with those around me. Now I am going to the altar and would like to have you pray with me." This broke up the class-meeting, and while two or three old saints knelt around me hitting me on the back frequently, I consecrated to walk in past light and it was but a little while until the old-time joy and holy boldness were mine again.

      I remained that year and kept on top of public opinion. The next summer I entered evangelistic work and did not get back to Wheaton again. It was several years before I visited the place and when I did, I naturally inquired what had become of my old collegiates. One had died from the effects of bicycle racing, another was clerking in a little grocery store, another was driving a bakery wagon and still another was preaching for the Congregationalists. These were the same young preachers who ridiculed me for dressing plainly and casting my lot in with the holiness people and the most despised crowd at that -- "The howling" Free Methodists.

      Well, what had become of the young crank? God forbid that I should boast, but in the same length of time that would have required to have completed my course, He gave me a number of successful revivals, from which he called some to preach the gospel here and in foreign lands. The fact is, instead of "preaching to empty seats," as they prophesied, God had enabled the writer to see more, travel more, preach to larger crowds and get more souls saved than all these young student preachers put together. Did it pay to take a radical, pronounced stand for God?

      Each student had high ambitions to make a mark in the world, not knowing that the best and quickest way to do this was to get the fiery baptism, then "cry aloud" against every form and phase of sin. It may mean rocks, bullets and jails as it did in my case, but it is a sure way to make the world feel that you have an existence for good.

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