Copyright © Philadelphia Church of God
We had moved to the Pacific Northwest in the summer of 1924. My wife’s brother, Walter Dillon, and her sister, Bertha, had driven Walter’s Model T Ford back to Iowa in August. Walter finished his junior year at Simpson College in Indianola, 1924–1925 school year, and Bertha continued teaching at the same school where she had taught before the Oregon trip.
During that third college year at Simpson, Walter had married a blonde girl of German background whose name was Hertha. In June 1925, Walter and his young wife, together with Bertha and my wife’s father, had returned to Oregon. With a new bride to support, it was necessary for Walter to go back to teaching school, as he had done before entering Simpson. Both he and Bertha obtained teaching jobs, and my father-in-law bought a small-town store.
During the following years, Walter attended summer sessions at the University of Oregon and managed also to take, part of the time, some night extension courses at the university, in Portland. Walter kept this schedule, while teaching, until he earned his bachelor of arts degree at the university, and later his master of arts. He soon moved up to a principalship, and finally became principal at the largest grade school in Oregon, outside of Portland.
Walter’s wife had been indoctrinated with the theory of evolution in college. One day she and I became engaged in a discussion. The evolutionary doctrine came into the conversation. I mentioned that I was not convinced of its validity.
“Herbert Armstrong, you are simply ignorant!” accused Hertha. Her words stabbed deeply into what was left of my ego. “One is uneducated, and ignorant, unless he believes in evolution. All educated people now believe it.”
That accusation came hot on the heels of this Sabbath challenge from my wife. Of course, Hertha was only about 19, and had had but her freshman year in college. She was yet immature enough to be a bit oversold on what had been presented to her as a mark of intellectual distinction. Nevertheless, her manner was cutting and a bit sarcastic, and I accepted it as a challenge.
“Hertha,” I responded, “I am just starting a study of the Bible. I intend to include in this research a thorough study of the biblical account of creation. Since it is admittedly one of the two—evolution or special creation—I will include an in-depth study of evolution. I feel sure that a thorough study into both sides will show that it is you who are ignorant, and that you merely studied one side of a two-sided question in freshman biology, and accepted what was funneled into your mind without question. And if and when I do, I’m going to make you EAT those words!”
And so it developed that I now had a double challenge to go to work on—a dual subject involving both the biblical claims for special creation, and also a more in-depth study than before into texts on biology, geology, paleontology and the various works on the theory of evolution.
Actually, this is simply the study into the two possibilities of origins. It threw me directly into an in-depth research of what is perhaps the most basic of all knowledge—the very starting point in the acquisition of knowledge—the search for the correct concept through which to view all facts.
The two subjects—or, rather, the two sides of the same subject of origins—should be unprejudicially and objectively studied together, yet seldom are!
Most believers in the Bible and in the existence of God have probably just grown up believing it, because they were reared in an atmosphere where it was believed. But perhaps few ever studied into it deeply enough to obtain irrefutable proof.
Likewise, the educated, who have gone on through college or university, have, in the main, been taught the theory of evolution as a belief. They have accepted it, in all probability, without having given any serious or thorough study of the biblical claims.
I had come to the point where I wanted the truth!
I now had the time on my hands. I was willing to pay the price of thorough and in-depth research to be sure!
The reader is reminded that I had chosen, instead of the university, the process of self-education, selecting my own courses of study. I had studied diligently, after leaving high school at age 18, and continuously up to this incident in 1926. But I was now entering on a field of research in which previous study had been minimal.
I began this intensified study by obtaining everything I could find in the way of books, pamphlets and other literature both for and against what was often called “the Jewish Sabbath.” I wanted, not only everything I could lay hands on, on the case for Sunday, and against the seventh-day Sabbath. I wanted, also, the arguments or proponents for it, which I hoped to be able honestly to refute.
At the same time, I found, in the Portland Public Library, many scientific works either directly on evolution, or as a teaching in textbooks on biology, paleontology and geology. Also I found books by scientists and doctors of philosophy puncturing many holes in the evolutionary hypothesis. Strangely, even the critics of evolution, being themselves scientific men, paradoxically accepted the very theory they so ably refuted.
But, reading first the works of Darwin, Haeckel, Spencer, Huxley, Vogt and more recent and modern authorities, the evolutionary postulate began to become very convincing.
It became apparent early that the real and thorough-going evolutionists universally agreed that evolution excluded the possibility of the existence of God
And so it came about that, very early in this study of evolution and of the Bible, actual doubts came into my mind about the existence of God!
In a very real sense, this was a good thing. I had always assumed the existence of God because I had been taught it from childhood. I had grown up in Sunday school. I simply took it for granted.
Now, suddenly, I realized I had never proved whether there is a God. Since the existence of God is the very first basis for religious belief and authority—and since the inspiration of the Bible by such a God as His revelation to mankind is the secondary and companion basis for faith and practice—I realized that the place to start was to prove whether God exists and whether the Holy Bible is His revelation of knowledge and information for mankind.
I had nothing but time on my hands. I rose early and studied. Most mornings I was standing at the front entrance of the public library when its doors were opened. Most evenings I left the library at 9 p.m., closing time. Most nights I continued study at home until my wife, at 1 a.m. or later, would waken from her sleep and urge me to break off and get to bed.
I delved into science. I learned the facts about radioactive elements. I learned how radioactivity proves there has been no past eternity of matter. There was a time when matter did not exist. Then there came a time when matter came into existence. This was creation, one of several proofs of God.
By the laws of science, including the law of biogenesis, that only life can beget life—that dead matter cannot produce life—that the living cannot come from the not-living, by these laws came proof that God exists.
In the Bible I found one quoted, saying in the first person, “I am God.” This God was quoted directly in Scriptures, proved to have been written hundreds of years before Christ, pronouncing the future fates of every major city and nation in the ancient world. I delved into history. I learned that these prophecies, in every instance (except in prophecies pertaining to a time yet future), had come to pass precisely as written!
I studied the creation account in the Bible. It is not all in Genesis 1. I studied it all! I studied evolution. At first the evolutionary theory seemed very convincing—just as it does to freshmen students in most colleges and universities.
I noted evidences of comparative anatomy. But these evidences were not, in themselves, proof. They merely tended to make the theory appear more reasonable if proved. I noted tests and discoveries of embryology. These, too, were not proof, but only supporting evidence if evolution were proved.
I noticed that Lamarck’s original theory of use and disuse, once accepted as science, had been laughed out of school. I learned that the once scientific spiral-nebular theory of the Earth’s existence had become the present-day laughing stock, supplanted by (in 1926) Prof. Thomas Chrowder Chamberlin’s planetesimal hypothesis. I sought out the facts of Darwin’s life. I learned the facts about his continual sickness—about his preconceived theory and inductive process of reasoning in searching for such facts and arguments as would sustain his theory.
I researched the facts about his tour on the good ship Beagle. I read of how he admitted there were perplexing problems in his theories and in what he had written, but that he nevertheless continued to promulgate evolution. I learned how his colleagues glossed over these perplexing problems and propagandized his theory into scientific acceptance.
Then I came to the matter of the human mind. As far back as 1926 I was concerned about the vast gulf between animal brain and human mind. Could that gulf have been bridged by evolution? It appeared that, even if the evolutionary process were possible, in reality the time required to bridge this gulf in intellectual development would have been millions of times longer than what geology and paleontology would indicate.
But, most important, I knew that I, with my mind, am superior to anything my mind can devise, and that I can make. Likewise, it became axiomatic that nothing less than the intelligence of my mind could have produced something superior to itself—my mind! Of necessity, the very presence of human intellect necessitates a superior and greater intellect to have designed, devised and produced the human mind! It could not have been produced by natural causes and resident forces, as evolution presupposes. Unintelligence could not produce intelligence superior to itself! Rational common sense demanded a Creator of superior mind!
I came to see that there was only one possible proof of evolution as a fact. That was the assumption that, in the study of paleontology, the most simple fossils were always in the oldest strata, laid down first; while, as we progress into strata of later deposition, the fossils found in them become gradually more complex, tending toward advancing intelligence.
That one claim, I finally determined, was the trunk of the tree of evolution. If the trunk stood, the theory appeared proved. If I could chop down the trunk, the entire tree would fall with it.
I began a search to learn how these scientists determined the age of strata. I was months finding it. None of the texts I searched seemed to explain anything about it. This trunk of the tree was carelessly assumed—without proof.
Were the oldest strata always on the bottom—the next oldest next to the bottom, the most recent on the top? Finally I found it in a recognized text on geology authored by Professor Chamberlin. No, sometimes the most recent were actually below the most ancient strata. The age of strata was not determined by stages of depth. The depth of strata varied in different parts of the world.
How, then, was the age of strata determined? Why, I finally discovered in this very reputable authority, their age was determined by the fossils found in them. Since the geologists “knew” their evolutionary theory was true, and since they had estimated how many millions of years ago a certain fossil specimen might have lived, that age determined the age of the strata!
In other words, they assumed the age of the strata by the supposition that their theory of evolution was true. And they “proved” their theory was true by the supposition of the progressive ages of the strata in which fossil remains had been found! This was arguing in a circle!
The trunk of the evolutionary tree was chopped down. There was no proof!
I wrote a short paper on this discovery. I showed it to the head librarian of the technical and science department of a very large library.
“Mr. Armstrong,” she said, “you have an uncanny knack of getting right to the crux of a problem. Yes, I have to admit you have chopped down the trunk of the tree. You have robbed me of proof! But, Mr. Armstrong, I still have to go on believing in evolution. I have done graduate work at Columbia, at the University of Chicago and other top-level institutions. I have spent my life in the atmosphere of science and in the company of scientific people. I am so steeped in it that I could not root it from my mind!”
What a pitiful confession, from one so steeped in “the wisdom of this world.”
I had disproved the theory of evolution. I had found proof of creation—proof of the existence of God—proof of the divine inspiration of the Bible.
Now I had a basis for belief. Now I had a solid foundation on which to build. The Bible had proved itself to contain authority. I had now studied far enough to know that I must live by it, and that I shall finally be judged by it—not by men, nor by man’s church denominations, theories, theologies, tenets, doctrines or pronouncements. I would be judged by Almighty God finally, and according to the Bible
So now I began to study further into this Sabbath question.
Of course I had procured all the pamphlets, books and booklets I could find in defense of Sunday observance and purporting to refute the “Jewish Sabbath.”
Especially I sought out eagerly everything claiming apostolic observance of Sunday as “the Christian Sabbath.” Early in my study, I learned about the many Bible helps—the concordances, which list alphabetically all the words used in the Bible, showing where they are used, and what Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic word was originally written—Bible dictionaries, Bible encyclopedias, commentaries, etc., etc.
From the exhaustive concordances I soon learned that the command I sought, “Thou shalt keep Sunday,” was nowhere to be found in the Bible. In fact, the word “Sunday” was not used in the Bible. That surprised me.
I really became excited, however, when I learned that there are eight places in the New Testament where the phrase “first day of the week” appears. And I read eagerly arguments in tracts or booklets claiming that these established that the original apostles were holding their weekly worship services on “the first day of the week”—which is Sunday.
But I became painfully disappointed on learning by more careful study that there was not a single instance of a religious service being held on the hours we call Sunday—Saturday midnight to Sunday midnight. The Apostle Paul, after spending a “Saturday” Sabbath with the church at Troas, preached to them Saturday night until midnight. But although, in the biblical manner of ending each day and beginning the next at sunset, that was—biblically speaking—on “the first day of the week,” it was not Sunday, but Saturday night, lasting until Sunday began at midnight.
I was further disappointed in this case, when I discovered on careful study, that on that Sunday Paul indulged in the labor of walking some 19 miles to Assos. The others of Paul’s company had sailed, beginning sunset when the Sabbath ended, around the peninsula, some 65 miles to Assos. By walking the 19 miles straight across, on Sunday, Paul had gained the extra time to continue speaking to the people Saturday night.
So my effort to find a command to observe Sunday met with disappointment.
I found there is no command to observe Sunday. Sunday is nowhere called holy time, but to my chagrin, I found this “Jewish Sabbath” is, and is said to be holy to God. There was not even a single example of any religious meeting having been held on the hours called Sunday!
On the other hand, I had to learn, like it or not, that Jesus kept the Sabbath day “as His custom was,” and the Apostle Paul kept it “as his manner was.” Also Paul spent many Sabbath days preaching and holding weekly services, and in one instance the Gentiles waited a whole week in order to be able to come and hear Paul preach the same words on the following Sabbath!
I learned that creation is the very proof of God! A heathen comes along, pointing to an idol made by man’s hands out of wood, stone or marble or gold.
“This idol is the real god,” he says. “How can you prove your God is superior to this idol that I worship?”
“Why,” I answer, “My God is the Creator. He created the wood, stone, marble or gold that your god is made of. He created man, and man, a created being, made that idol. Therefore my God is greater than your idol because it is only a particle of what my God made!”
Another comes along and says, “I worship the sun. We get our light from the sun. It warms the Earth and makes vegetation grow. I think the sun is God.”
“But,” I reply, “the true God created the sun. He created light. He created force, energy and life. He makes the sun shine on the Earth. He controls the sun, because He controls all the forces of His creation. He is supreme
Then I began to see that on the very seventh day of creation week, God set that day aside from other days. On that day He rested from all He had created by work. On that day he created the Sabbath, not by work, but by rest, putting His divine presence in it! He made it holy time. No man has authority to make future time holy. No group of men—no church! Only God is holy
Why did He do it? Why does it make any difference?
I found it in the special Sabbath covenant in Exodus 31:12-18. He made it the sign between Him and His people. A sign is a mark of identity. First, it is a sign that God is the Creator, because it is a memorial of creation—the creation is the proof of God—it identifies Him. No other space of time could be a memorial of creation. Thus God chose that very space of time for man to assemble for worship which keeps man in the knowledge of the true identity of God as the Creator. Every nation which has not kept the Sabbath has worshiped the created rather than the Creator. It is a sign that identifies God’s own people, because it is they who obey God in this commandment, while this is the very commandment which everyone else regards as the least of the commandments—which they rebel against obeying!
God is the one you obey. The word Lord means Master—the one you obey! This is the one point on which the largest number of people refuse to obey the true God, thus proving they are not His people!
I studied carefully everything I could obtain which attempted to refute the Sabbath. I wanted, more than anything on Earth, to refute it—to prove that Sunday was the true Christian Sabbath, or “Lord’s day.”
I read the arguments about “law or grace.”
I was pointed to, and read, Romans 3:20: “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight.”
But I looked into the Bible, and found the pamphlet had left out the rest of the verse: “for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” That is true, because I read in 1 John 3:4 that the Bible definition of sin is not man’s conscience, or his church “don’ts,” but “sin is the transgression of the law.” Naturally, then, the knowledge of sin comes by the law.
And I discovered the pamphlet forgot to quote verse 31 of Romans 3: “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.”
I read in a pamphlet, “… the law worketh wrath” (Romans 4:15).
I turned to my Bible and read the rest of the same verse: “for where no law is, there is no transgression.” Of course! Because the law defines sin. Sin is disobedience of the law!
I read in one of the pamphlets that the law was an evil thing, contrary to our best interests. But then I read in Romans 7: “Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” And “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.” And again, “For we know that the law is spiritual …” (verses 7, 12, 14).
I learned that grace is pardon, through the blood of Christ, for having transgressed the law. But if a human judge pardons a man for breaking a civil or criminal law, that pardon does not repeal the law. The man is pardoned so that he may now obey the law. And God pardons only after we repent of sin!
But do not suppose I quickly or easily came to admit my wife had been right, or to accept the seventh-day Sabbath as the truth of the Bible.
I spent a solid six months of virtual night-and-day, seven-day-a-week study and research in a determined effort to find just the opposite.
I searched in vain for any authority in the Bible to establish Sunday as the day for Christian worship. I even studied Greek sufficiently to run down every possible questionable text in the original Greek.
I studied the commentaries. I studied the lexicons and Robertsons’s A Grammar of the Greek New Testament. Then I studied history. I delved into encyclopedias—the Britannica, the Americana, and several religious encyclopedias. I searched the Jewish Encyclopedia and the Catholic Encyclopedia. I read Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, especially Chapter 15 dealing with the religious history of the first 400 years after Christ. And one of the most convincing evidences against Sunday-keeping was in the history of how and when it began.
I left no stone unturned.
I found clever arguments. I will confess that, so eager was I to overthrow this Sabbath belief of my wife, at one point in this intensive study I believed I might possibly have been able to use arguments to confuse and upset my wife on the Sabbath question. But there was no temptation to try to do it. I knew these arguments were not honest! I could not deliberately try to deceive my wife with dishonest arguments. The thought was immediately pushed aside. I know now she could not have been deceived.
Finally, after six months, the truth had become crystal clear. At last I knew what was the truth. Once again, God had taken me to a licking!
It had been bewildering—utterly frustrating! It seemed as if some mysterious, invisible hand was disintegrating every business I started!
That was precisely what was happening! The hand of God was taking away every activity on which my heart had been set—the business success before whose shrine I had worshiped. This zeal to become important in the business world had become an idol. God was destroying the idol. He was knocking me down—again and again! He was puncturing the ego, deflating the vanity.
At age 16 ambition had been aroused. I began to study constantly—to work at self-improvement—to prod and drive myself on and on. I had sought the jobs which would provide training and experience for the future. This had led to travel and to contacts with big and important men, multimillionaire executives.
At 28, a publishers’ representative business had been built in Chicago that produced an income equivalent to some $35,000 a year measured by today’s dollar value. The flash depression of 1920 had swept it away. At age 30, discouraged, broken in spirit, I was removed from it entirely.
Then, in Oregon, had come the advertising service for laundries. It was growing and multiplying rapidly. After one year, in the fall of 1926, the fees were grossing close to $1,000 per month. I saw visions of a personal net income mounting to $300,000 to a half million a year with expansion to national proportions. Then an action by the Laundryowners National Association swept the laundry advertising business out from under my feet.
It seemed that I was King Midas in reverse. Every material money-making enterprise I started promised gold, but turned to nothing! They vanished like mirages on a desert.
Yes, God Almighty the Creator was knocking me down—again and again. As often as I got back on my feet to fight, starting another business or enterprise, another blow of utter and bitter defeat seemed to strike me from behind by an unseen hand. I was being “softened” for the final knockout of material ambition.
Now came the greatest inner battle of my life.
To accept this truth meant—so I supposed—to cut me off from all former friends, acquaintances and business associates. I had come to meet some of the independent “Sabbath keepers” down around Salem and the Willamette Valley. Some of them were what I then, in my pride and conceit, regarded as backwoods “hillbillies.” None were of the financial and social position of those I had associated with.
My associations and pride had led me to “look down on” this class of people. I had been ambitious to hobnob with the wealthy and the cultured.
I saw plainly what a decision was before me. To accept this truth meant to throw in my lot for life with a class of people I had always looked on as inferior. I learned later that God looks on the heart, and these humble people were the real salt of the Earth. But I was then still looking on the outward appearance. It meant being cut off completely and forever from all to which I had aspired. It meant a total crushing of vanity. It meant a total change of life!
I counted the cost!
But by then I had been beaten down. I had been humiliated. I had been broken in spirit, frustrated. I had come to look on this formerly esteemed self as a failure. I now took another good look at myself.
And I acknowledged: “I’m nothing but a burned-out old hunk of junk.”
I realized I had been a swellheaded, egotistical jackass.
Finally, in desperation, I threw myself on God’s mercy. I said to God that I knew, now, that I was nothing but a burned-out hunk of junk. My life was worth nothing more to me. I said to God that I knew now I had nothing to offer Him—but if He would forgive me—if He could have any use whatsoever for such a worthless dreg of humanity, that He could have my life; I knew it was worthless, but if He could do anything with it, He could have it—I was willing to give this worthless self to Him—I wanted to accept Jesus Christ as personal Savior!
I meant it! It was the toughest battle I ever fought. It was a battle for life. I lost that battle, as I had been recently losing all battles. I realized Jesus Christ had bought and paid for my life. I gave in. I surrendered, unconditionally. I told Christ He could have what was left of me! I didn’t think I was worth saving!
Jesus said, “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” I then and there gave up my life—not knowing that this was the only way to really find it!
It was humiliating to have to admit my wife had been right, and I had been wrong. It was disillusioning to learn, on studying the Bible for the first time, that what I had been taught in Sunday school was, in so many basic instances, the very opposite of what the Bible plainly states. It was shocking to learn that “all these churches were wrong” after all!
But I did, later, have one satisfaction. I wrote up a long manuscript about the Sabbath, finally tying it up with evolution, and proving evolution false. I gave it to my sister-in-law, Mrs. Dillon. She read it unsuspectingly. Before she realized what she was reading, she had accepted the evidence and proof that evolution was false.
“You tricked me!” she exclaimed.
But she did have to “eat those words”!Continue Reading: Chapter 17: At the Crossroads—a Momentous Decision