A History of The Missionary Training Institute (1933)
1883 – 1933
By John H. Cable
As the title page indicates, the immediate occasion for the issuing of this brief history of the Institute is the Jubilee of the school. The Executive Committee, consisting of Rev. H. M. Shuman, Rev. L. B. Griffin, Rev. George Shaw, Rev. E. R. Dunbar, and Rev. .H. Cable, authorized the writer in its regular meeting of October 12, 1932, to take care of getting the facts and the assembling the material for a history of The Missionary Training Institute as one of the features of our Jubilee celebration. This committee has advised concerning the copy, agreed upon the illustrations to be used, selected the binding, and decided the form the booklet should take. Rev. D. J. Fant, Publication Secretary of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, has contributed his expert advice in arranging the pages and advising as to the mechanical work.
So many individuals, executives, teachers, and distinguished patrons have been prominent in the school’s life that it is impossible to feature any without giving prominence to all. Therefore, instead of these, we have used group pictures of each of the five decades of the Institute’s history.
The writer recognized that the fruitful fifty years’ ministry of The Missionary Training Institute merits a more thorough-going and extensive treatment, and hopes that a complete history will be forthcoming, yet he rejoices in the honor and privilege of providing “copy” on the “Oldest Bible School in America.”
Nyack, N.Y., April 15, 1933
In Mark’s account of the choosing and setting apart of the twelve he says, “And he ordained twelve, that they might be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach and to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils.” So the twelve were chosen that they might “be with him.” Evidently this association is presupposed as a preparation for their being sent forth to preach.
The Master, in calling disciples, did what great teachers are expected to do. It is by personal contact that men of unusual gifts and extraordinary graces pass on to succeeding generations their valuable contributions. Thus posterity is enriched and the wealth of the race conserved. From this standpoint a school is an association between teacher and pupils. Hence we have as the idea of a university—“Mark Hopkins (the teacher) on one end of a log and the boy on the other.”
Then any school becomes a reflector of its founder or dominating personality. The pupils shine from borrowed light. As the moon, the sun, so they mirror their master.
And yet again a school is nearly always a handmaiden to a movement. It is not an end in itself; it does not exist for itself. It functions most successfully when it best serves the “cause.”
The above considerations will aid us in our study of The Missionary Training Institute.
I. The Occasion of The Missionary Training Institute
1. THE FOUNDERa. Personal History
Rev. A. B. Simpson, D.D., the founder of the school, came from Scotch parentage; “the Simpson family emigrated from Morayshire and settled in Prince Edward Island in 1774.” Among his ancestors were “Covenanters.” He was brought up in the United Presbyterian Church.
His parentage was unusual. Miss Louisa Simpson, who in 1920 was “the only surviving member of the household,” writes as follows of her parents:
“While speaking of my father, I feel that I owe it to his memory to say that, in a period ranging from my babyhood till he was nearly eighty-five years of age, I never once saw him lose his temper or say an unkind word to anyone, though I often saw him deeply hurt, for he was very tender and most affectionate. His life was radiant with sunshine. As my brother, James, stood with me besides his coffin, he said, almost enviously, ‘There lies a man who never wronged his fellow.’
“Mother was a most earnest Christian all her life. She was a woman of the highest ideals…Deeply religious, she trained us to take everything to God in prayer.”
Speaking of his life purpose Dr. Simpson wrote, “My first definite religious crisis came at about the age of fourteen. Prior to this I had for a good while been planning to study for the ministry.” Then he relates of his scheme to teach school in order to earn money for his education; of his breaking down physically under the strain; of his High School work; of his religious experience at that time; of his teaching a school of forty pupils at the age of sixteen in order “to earn money for my first cycle of college.”
He entered Knox College, now situated on the campus of the University of Toronto, October, 1861, where he completed his arts and theological studies. His exceptional ability may be judged from the fact of his having won several prizes for excellence in scholarship. One of these was a reward offered for proficiency in the Classics; another was the John Knox Bursary prize for an essay on “Infant Baptism”; yet another was the Prince of Wales prize for an essay on “The Preparation of the World for the Appearing of the Saviour and the Setting up of His Kingdom.” “During the summer vacations,” writes Dr. Simpson, “I was sent out to preach in mission churches and stations.” Thus at the close of his theological course he was prepared to enter upon his first pastorate, Knox Church, Hamilton.
Subsequent to this charge he ministered to the Chestnut Street Church, Louisville. There he was instrumental in uniting the churches of the city in a successful evangelistic effort led by Major Whittle and P. P. Bliss. Out of this grew “a Tabernacle in a central location on Broadway.” He insisted upon a church “free from debt, free to God, free to all” and refused to dedicate it until these conditions were met.
b. Special Calling
From Louisville he came to the Thirteenth Street Presbyterian Church in New York, November, 1879. Late in life Dr. Simpson referred to his association with this church as follows: “For two years I spent a happy ministry with this noble people, but found after a thorough and honest trial that it would be difficult for them to adjust themselves to the radical and aggressive measures to which God was leading me. What they wanted was a conventional parish for respectable Christians. What their young pastor wanted was a multitude of publicans and sinners. Therefore, after two years of most congenial and cordial fellowship with these dear people and without a strain of any kind, I frankly told them that God was calling me to a different work, and I asked them and the Presbytery of New York to release me for the purpose of preaching the gospel to the masses.” His farewell sermon was preached November 7, 1881. Leaving his influential pastorate and lucrative salary, he launched forth with no constituency and no financial assistance. His failure was predicted. Dr. John Hall said to him, “We will not say good-bye to you, Simpson, you will soon be back with us.”
Though he thus acted according to his deepest convictions for his life, yet he did not attempt to lure other workers from their associations. On this point Rev. Kenneth Mackenzie, then in New York City but later of Westport, Conn., said, “As often as I could I met with him, for he seemed to long for me, and I was always blessed in fellowship with him. I confess I was more than once allured to think of following his step. In later years he once declared in public that he would much prefer to have Mr. Mackenzie’s presence and teaching as a minister of the Episcopal Church than as a worker in the Alliance.”
Since the object of the work of Rev. A. B. Simpson was the salvation of souls, his ministry was one of pastoral evangelism. Soon followers gathered about him. February, 1882, a meeting was held at his residence, and a church of thirty-five members formally organized. The membership rapidly increased. A Sunday evening congregation of 700 was soon attracted to his unique ministry. The ideal that Mr. Simpson had for his church is couched in these words: “My plan and idea of a church are those which are exemplified in the great London churches of Newman Hall and of Spurgeon, comprising thousands of members of no particular class, but of the rich and poor side by side.” When the Gospel Tabernacle was organized it was stated that the particular mission of the congregation was “the neglected classes at home and abroad.” And such has continued to be the object of this congregation and the movement that has grown out of it. A small group of only seven persons met at Caledonian Hall, Eighth Avenue and Thirteenth Street, November 1881. Later Abbey’s Park Theater was used for Sunday evening services. Other places of meeting were obtained as audiences increased. In May 1882, Grand Opera Hall was rented and used for two years. Tent meetings were held at various places in the city. Once meetings were held in Madison Square Garden. In the spring of 1884, through a providential circumstance, the Twenty-third Street Tabernacle was secured. This moving about was a continued quest for quarters in keeping with an expansion due to the intensely evangelistic character of the work, until the congregation was firmly established in the present structure at 692 Eighth Avenue. Descriptive of the type of church life of the Gospel Tabernacle we quote from “The Life of A. B. Simpson, by A. E. Thompson:
“The atmosphere of the church was wholesome, and although it suffered much misrepresentation and caricature, the testimonies of sane religious leaders … prove that there was nothing extreme or fanatical either in the testimony or methods. In The Christian Inquirer of May 24, 1888, was the following sentence: ‘It is a mistake to suppose that Mr. Simpson’s work is mainly in the line of propagating the doctrine of Divine Healing, that being a subordinate feature. His chief work is purely evangelistic, and in many of the meetings physical healing is not referred to, but Christ as the sinner’s Friend is the great theme.’”
c. An Educator
While Dr. Simpson was thus energetically spending himself with an ever expanding evangelistic ministry he was seeing the possibilities for service in the lives that were being attracted to him. In The Christian and Missionary Alliance of April 30, 1897, in an article, “The Training and Sending Forth of Workers,” he expressed his ideals of training and what he hoped would be realized through “The Missionary Institute.” Commenting on Luke 10:2, “Pray ye, therefore, the Lord of the harvest that he would send forth laborers into his harvest,” he said, “The first (scripture) reminds us that God must send them forth.” Citing Romans 10: 14, 15, “How shall they hear without a preacher, and how shall they preach except they be sent?” he wrote, “The second (scripture) reminds us that we must send them forth.” Referring to 2 Timothy 2:2, “The things which thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men who shall be able to teach others also,” he continued, “And the third that they must be carefully prepared and selected by wise training and deep spiritual discernment, for they must not be only faithful men but able to teach others also.” Then after stating, “God has always had a trained ministry,” as a sort of a topic sentence, he observes, by scriptural examples, that training has divine sanction. So he alludes to Moses’ training in “the solitudes of Horeb”; he reminds us of Joshua’s tutorage under Moses; he features Samuel as “the real founder of the schools of the prophets”; he portrays Elisha with a “lot of students who were called sons of the prophets”; coming to the Teacher of teachers he says, “Christ had a trained ministry and the course of his college was just three years, a heavenly pattern which we are endeavoring to follow.” Concluding his introduction to this article, which embodies his reasons as well as his ideals and aims for The Missionary Training Institute, Dr. Simpson writes: “The training of Christian workers therefore rests upon a scriptural warrant. We have no fault to find with the principles of the trained ministry. The only criticism is about the kind of training. How often it is merely intellectual, scholastic, traditional, and many of us have found by sad experience that God has to put us to school again to unlearn much of what man has crammed into our brains and then to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn of Him.” From these statements we are prepared to expect something in Dr. Simpson’s plan for his school that is different from the conventional Seminary courses and programs. Coupled with this conviction that workers should be “trained” there was in Dr. Simpson a desire not only to have them taught, but to teach them himself. Rev. Kenneth Mackenzie, associated with Mr. Simpson at the inception of his work, once remarked to the writer, “Simpson was instinctively an educator.” Here we distinguish between the educator and the mere instructor. The latter simply imparts or build in or on, as the etymology of the word suggests. The former stimulates, encourages, creates and atmosphere or leads out, as the etymology indicates.
We are indebted to Dr. W. M. Turnbull, successor of Dr. Simpson as Pastor of the Gospel Tabernacle, New York City, for his description, an appreciation of Dr. Simpson In the classroom: “Although Dr. Simpson was a strikingly handsome and attractive figure, was possessed of a resonant, captivating voice, and was gifted with social graces that gave him advantage in any company, it was always to be noticed that the affection of his students seemed to be drawn to his Master even more than to himself. It is difficult to recall his ways and methods in the classroom because of the overpowering sense of the Lord’s presence that abides in the memory as the aroma of his teaching ministry. Yet there are many hundreds scattered throughout the world, wherever need is greatest, who will treasure as their most valued recollection the picture of the simple chapel at New York or Nyack filled with a company of eager young students. The teacher’s chair is empty, for all have come early at Dr. Simpson’s hour. A happy chorus is started with exuberance of spirit, and the zest of it makes young blood tingle. Another chorus, perhaps a trifle boisterous, but suddenly a hush falls, for down the aisle comes the dignified form of Dr. Simpson. The massive head upon the broad shoulders is bowed as one who enters a holy place. The chorus dies away; he quietly takes his chair, opens his Bible, and smiles in a delightful comradeship upon his class. ‘Will you not sing another chorus?’ he asks. ‘Song is a little of heaven loaned to earth.’ He is one of us, young as the youngest. One feels that he knows every thought and desire of the most wayward heart, yet his face and voice betray the fact that he has been caught up into the third Heaven and has seen things unlawful to utter. He comes to our level, but brings the glory of the Presence with him. We can only sing, “My Jesus, I Love Thee, I Know Thou Art Mine,’ or some similar hymn in adoration. Then follows the prayer as he talks about us to Christ Jesus at his side. We breathe softly, and listen for each word as it is uttered. It would not surprise us much to hear an audible answer because the Lord seems so near. In such moments our petty sorrows and the little selfish plans wither and are gone. Deep in the soul is born a desire to please in all things, not Dr. Simpson, but that Living One, whose voice whispers to us and whose hand we feel upon our hearts. As the Scriptures are expounded, the same Presence lingers and many a splendid point of truth is not only intellectually grasped, but is personally applied as some convicted one takes a practical step of obedience and whispers, ‘Lord, I will.’ The simplicity and orderliness of Dr. Simpson’s classroom teaching prevented one from fully realizing its profundity. Only in retrospect, could one ever attempt to appraise his incomparable gifts. Without doubt he was one of the master teachers of his generation. His breadth and comprehensiveness of view were phenomenal. He combined deep spiritual intuition with such forceful yet simple presentation that the greatest truths were caught by even the unlettered. Men of wide learning and deep Christian experience could sit in his classes by the side of the intellectual babe, sharing equally in the richness of truth that fell with such graciousness from his lips. So kindly and affectionate was his manner, that the most timid found more confidence, and yet so princely was his bearing that no idle questions ever wasted the precious moments of his our. Wholesomeness of spirit radiated from his presence and proved a powerful preventative morbidness or fanaticism… He gripped every mind that was open. In any department of the educational world, he would have been an outstanding success. His virile personality, quick sympathy and crystal clearness would have won him fame; but when to all his natural talents were added the Spirit’s gift of prophesying and teaching, it is not to be wondered that he holds the supreme place in the minds of all who were ever favored to sit at his feet.”
Judged historically, Dr. Simpson was a social realist educationally. Social-realism “regarded education, in the frankest and most utilitarian manner, as the direct preparation for the life of the ‘man of the world.’” – Monroe. With the social-realists education is a frank preparation for a practical serviceable life. “Studies are not condemned, but they are subordinated.” The theoretical must become the handmaid of the practical. Dr. Simpson advocated a training in the scriptures and their wise use in ministerial and missionary work so as to bring practical results. Though a classical scholar himself, he held that knowledge was simply an instrument, an aid, a means to an end; hence, the emphasis on “Training.” All social realists advocate training, travel, etc., as most valuable in education.
Coming from the Presbyterian or Calvinistic branch of the Protestant Church as he did, we are not surprised that he was democratic in the matter of education. Though John Calvin taught the Sovereignty of God, yet he believed in the priesthood of believers. Therefore, each one must be prepared to go to God for himself. This magnifies the individual. Dr. Simpson led each one to practice the presence of God, to have an awareness of the Lord through the Holy Spirit. He is classified by Rev. A. E. Thompson as a Pauline mystic. His followers are mystics; and mystics are individualistic and require latitude and expect recognition and respect each for his own “leading.” This Dr. Simpson encouraged.
2. THE FOLKS
Having considered the Founder of The Missionary Training Institute we shall now see that the folks that gathered about him constituted an occasion for such an institution.
a. The Awakened
Those that had received spiritual quickening under the Holy Spirit indited ministry of Dr. Simpson and his associates were awakened intellectually. They had new interests. Life had a different meaning. Such a radical subjective experience, as most of them had, made the world and all it contained to bristle with meaning.
b. The “Irregulars”
These he referred to as “irregulars.” He gave as a reason for the school, “The need of irregulars in the work of the gospel.” Writing on this point he observed that “Early in the history of the church we find God sending forth laymen like Stephen, Philip and Barnabas to lead the great work of apostolic evangelization. We do not compete in this Institute with the regular theological seminary and the ordinary methods of taking the gospel ministry. We claim to be raising up a band of irregular soldiers for the vast unoccupied fields to supplement the armies of the Lord in the regions they cannot reach and work they cannot overtake.”
This generous, open-door, policy naturally drew to the Institute as David’s magnanimity attracted to the Cave of Adullam. One associate said, “I could have worshipped him in those days.”
3. THE FIELD
a. The Missionary
Dr. Simpson was a missionary at heart. His mother had dedicated him to this. He was baptized by John Geddie immediately preceding his going to Aneityum. In 1878, while a pastor in Louisville, Ky., he had a vision of the lost of China. This vision dominated his life. His missionary hymns, “To the Regions Beyond I Must Go,” and “A Hundred Thousand Souls a Day Are Passing One by One Away,” express his feeling of personal responsibility on the one hand and the crying need of heathen without Christ on the other.
b. The Movement
The movement which he founded, maintaining five hundred missionaries and a proportionate number of native workers on twenty fields, is a witness to the reality and insistence of his missionary purposes. In the early days of the work, many of those led to Christ through his ministry volunteered for foreign service. Their training was another reason for the establishing of the school which has since come to be known as The Missionary Training Institute. The missionary objective and obligation of the School is beautifully and forcefully couched in the last hymn written by Dr. Simpson on the Nyack motto and sung at the Congress of Missionary Bands, February, 1919. The motto and hymn are as follows:
The Whole Bible to the Whole Wide World
“God has given us a great commission,
“God has given us a great salvation,
“Christ is calling us with many voices,
“Blessed Master, we have heard Thy summons,
II. The Origin of the Missionary Training Institute
1. EARLY LOCATIONS
The Missionary Training Institute, now known throughout the world, had a very humble beginning. The first class, comprising a few enthusiastic followers of the founder, met on the stage of a theater on Twenty-third Street, New York City. The equipment, a few benches and tables, was meager indeed. But there were to be found the essentials of a school, the thoroughly equipped, stimulating teacher and eager pupils. This was in the year 1882.
During its early years the Institute had no fixed home. October, 1883, it entered a new home on Eighth Avenue. Then it was organized as The Missionary Training College for Home and Foreign Missionaries and Evangelists. Between forty and fifty attended.
During those early days foundations were laid for the superstructure of later years. Friends were attracted and attached to this new type of venture of faith. For, as Dr. Turnbull has written, “Dr. Simpson was the pioneer in the field of Bible Training School work in America, although in Great Britain the East London Institute founded by Dr. H. Gratton Guinness is some years older.” Soon there were numbered among the patrons and pupils many from distant ports.
In those days Dr. Simpson was ably aided by Prof. Robert Roden and Miss Waterbury as instructors. During the first session Dr. Arthur T. Pierson, Dr. George F. Pentecost, Dr. Charles F. Deems, Dr. A. J. Gordon, Dr. Thomas C. Easton, and Rev. Kenneth Mackenzie either lectured or gave addresses in the school. The last name still makes a biweekly visit to the Institute and gives three lectures. Thus he constitutes a living link between 1882 and 1933.
In passing it as well to observe that Dr. Simpson displayed a remarkable capacity for attracting to himself and his work men of outstanding ability and unusual gifts. For a number of years Dr. F. W. Farr, as Vice-President, gave his time and many varied talents to the administration of the school and to teaching. Later W. C. Stevens, gifted and trained, as Principal did much for the development of the Institute. George P. Pardington, B.D., Ph.D., of New York University and Drew Theological Seminary, cast in his lot and devoted his services for a score of years to a very high type of spiritual and scholarly instruction. His greatly appreciated ministry was crowned by a year of administrative work as Dean. J. Hudson Ballard, B.D., Ph.D., made an indelible impression upon Wilson Memorial Academy and the Missionary Training Institute by virtue of his executive genius and rare pedagogical gifts, closing his valuable ministry in the Alliance schools, May, 1915. Walter M. Turnbull, D.D., returning from a term of missionary service in India, after completing the course of study offered by McMaster University, was called to Nyack in 1914. As Instructor, Dean and Educational Secretary, he played an important role in The Missionary Training Institute. Rev. A. E. Funk served the Institute loyally both at New York and Nyack. As Superintendent he devoted himself to the young men for a score of years.
Dr. James M. Gray, Dr. Henry Wilson, Rev. Stephen Merritt, Rev. D. Y. Schultz, Dr. John Robertson, Dr. C. I. Scofield, Rev. A. L. Mershon, Rev. J. D. Williams, and Mrs. C. D. Field are included in the list of teachers and special lecturers who wrought with Dr. Simpson during the years of his most active ministry in the Institute.
In more recent years in addition to the Presidents: Rev. Paul Rader, 1919-24; Dr. F. H. Senft, 1924-26; and Rev. H. M. Shuman, 1926—, those that have served as major officers of the school are: J. D. Williams, Home Superintendent, 1914-15; W. M. Turnbull, Dean, 1915-22; C. L. Eicher, Acting Dean, 1922-23, and Dean, 1923-27; John H. Cable, Acting Dean, 1921-22, Principal, 1927-29 and Dean of the Faculty, 1929—; K. D. Garrison, Superintendent and Treasurer, 1927-29; M. B. Birrell, Superintendent, 1930-32; E. R. Dunbar, Superintendent, 1932—; L. Keller Brubaker, Treasurer, 1900-12 and 1914-19; R. E. Bennison, Treasurer, 1912-14; J. H. Palin, Treasurer, 1919-20; W. S. Poling, Treasurer, 1920-29; W. W. Bradley, Treasurer, 1929-30; and L. B. Griffin, Treasurer, 1930—.
Since in Dr. Simpson’s conception the ministry of women had a prominent place, we list the following has having had direct responsibilities in the oversight of the home life of the women: Miss Fannie L. Hess; Mrs. A. A. Kirk; Mrs. J. D. Williams, 1914-15; Mrs. Cora Rudy Turnbull, 1915-21; Mrs. John H. Cable, summer of 1916; Miss Isabel Marvin, summer of 1922; Mrs. E. M. Charlton, 1917-21, 1930—; Miss E. Hoffman, 1921-25; Miss Sara O. Gardner, 1925-26; Mrs. C. L. Eicher, 1926-27; Miss Mary F. Parmenter, 1927-28; Miss Margaret Scheirich, 1928-29; Miss Marie Freligh, 1929-30; and Miss May B. Benjamin, summers of 1931 and 1932.
Mrs. A. D. Pardington served as Registrar from 1915 to 1925.
The wives of the resident Superintendents have also directly affected the lives of the students. Of these we mention Mrs. A. E. Funk, known to many as “Mother Funk,” Mrs. K. D. Garrison, Mrs. M. B. Birrel, and Mrs. E. R. Dunbar.
Members of the Faculty and Staff continue to be selected in line with high standards of spirituality, scholarship, capability and loyalty to the doctrines and aims of the Institute.
Though Dr. Simpson’s beliefs were vital to him, rather than simply matters of a creed held intellectually, yet he was most tolerant to those evangelicals who differed with him in minor matters. This magnanimity characterized him in his school ministry. His own outstanding gifts and graces made his presentation of truth peculiarly attractive. His influence as an educator was compelling without his exercising compulsion.