Against the Gates of Hell
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Against the Gates of Hell

Chapter 2:

A Man Called Armstrong

Boyhood in Iowa

   The Church that had been targeted for assault is a small religious body based upon fundamental teachings revealed in both the New and the Old Testament of the Bible.* Founded almost a half-century ago, it has served its people well, involved itself in educational, cultural, and humanitarian projects all over the world and earned respect and admiration wherever its people performed the Church's mission.
   From hard beginnings, its scope and influence have extended to dozens of nations in global enterprises that are altogether unique in the history of religious experience.
   Nothing in his background or early life hinted at the impact Herbert W. Armstrong would eventually have upon religious thought and action here and abroad. The eldest son of Horace and Eva Armstrong, he was born in the stifling-hot back bedroom of a tiny apartment in Des Moines, Iowa. The day was July 31, the year 1892, his birthplace a small, red-brick apartment house on the corner of East Fourteenth Street and Grand Avenue, long since raised to make way for commercial property.
   As the century neared its turn, Iowa's untamed territorial years, could still be recalled by older residents. When Mr. Armstrong was born, the state, carved out of Wisconsin territory, had been a. member of the Union only forty-six years. There were still some who were telling saucer-eyed grandchildren stories learned first hand of how the settlers had fought, defeated and massacred the tribe of Black Hawk, chief of the Sac and Fox Indians, in a fierce battle at Wisconsin Heights and chased them to the Bad Axe River where the proud chief and his two sons were taken captive. On his release, Black Hawk had settled on a reservation on the Des Moines River.
* Appendix A
   Then, as now, Iowa was a grassy prairie state, the heart of the nation's corn belt, with gently rolling tablelands, ice-blue skies that edged into a darker color near the horizon, and space outside its cities, places where a boy can wander and dream. But it was also a land beginning to stir: besides its Indian corn, soybeans, and other crops above the soil, enormous quantities of wealth lay underground-gypsum, cement materials, stone sand, gravel, and coal. These were just being discovered and mined. Des Moines, which only a few decades before had been a government fort and covered-wagon stop on the way to California, was a bustling young city filling up rapidly with newcomers. Already 50,000 persons lived there, and already the city was bursting outward, showing signs of becoming the great metropolis it is today.
   Through his paternal great-grandmother, Herbert Armstrong can trace his family lineage back to Edward I of England, known as the English Justinian because of his reputation as a lawgiver, though his reign was marked by limiting the powers of the church, When William Penn came to the New World in 1682 in search of religious freedom, Armstrong's ancestors, who were devout Quakers, emigrated with him.
   The family, which included two other boys and two girls, moved often as the elder Armstrong struggled to support his brood in one occupation after another. Once he owned a flourmill with a partner; it failed. Another year he bought a hardware store with another man. It didn't last long either. For Several, years, he built one-family homes, lived in them for a while, then sold them at a small profit. Caught up in the spirit of the industrial evolution when factories and industrial towns were springing up, he too sought to make a better mousetrap. Tinkering with Furnaces, he invented a new device for circulating air inside them. It was, he thought, the great idea that would make him a fortune.
   He went into business to manufacture the devices but the fortune eluded him. Whatever merit the idea possessed, it has been lost to history.
   But if Armstrong's restless urges to try new things were not financially successful, they served quite another purpose: they helped develop in young Herbert an abiding curiosity in his expanding world. Watching his father, hearing the excitement in his voice as he talked about new ideas, Herbert too grew up wanting to know the "why" of things. His insatiable curiosity, apparent as early as five years of age, once prompted his father to remark: "That young 'un is always asking so many questions he's sure to be a Philadelphia lawyer when he grows up!"
   The Armstrong's were members of the First Friends Church where Herbert regularly attended the Sunday School. His father possessed a deep bass voice of which he was very proud and he sang in the church choir, as well as a church male quartet that was in great demand for functions throughout Des Moines. Young Herbert's job during services was to pump the pipe organ from behind a curtain that concealed him from the congregation. But neither the services, the organ bellows he operated, nor even the hymns of his father's quartet did much to instill religion in the boy. By the age of eighteen he stopped going to church.
   In his pre-adolescent and early teen years, Armstrong was like most boys growing up in America. He had a paper route, rising before dawn to toss the morning newspaper before front doors. He delivered orders for local stores. He did yard work. He took on any odd job anybody had to offer to earn a dollar or two. One summer, he was a draftsman for his father's furnace company
   In school, he was hardly the kind of student who would endear himself to a teacher. He rarely cracked a book or completed an assignment and almost never contributed to discussions. When he raised his hand it was only to be permitted to go to the bathroom Yet, though he sat almost somnolently through the lessons, appearing oblivious to all that was going on about him, his mind was soaking up information like blotting paper. Classroom instructions and the other students' recitations stuck; at exam time he almost invariably scored close to 100 percent, a fact that Constantly baffled and exasperated his teachers.
   Still, he was drifting, bright but ambitionless, with no life-target in sight.
   There are few men and women who cannot look back on a pivotal time that completely altered the course of their lives.
   These turning points can be almost anything — an inspiring moment that comforts us when events seem most hopeless; a minor happening that ordinarily would have gone unnoticed but, instead, opens our eyes to astonishing new vistas; a chance meeting with a friend. It could be a line from the Bible we chance upon one day, a stanza of poetry, an encounter with a stranger, a talk with a respected teacher. For me it was a telephone call — a most momentous call I will describe in a following chapter.
   For A. J. Cronin, the novelist, the homely yet immensely inspiring piece of advice from a weathered old Scottish farmer gave him hope that pulled him from the crumbling edge of despair. Discouraged, convinced that he was an utter failure in a career for which he felt "preposterously unfitted," Cronin was overwhelmed with the futility of his efforts and decided to cease writing. He bundled up the manuscript on which he was laboring and threw it into a refuse heap on a farm in the Scottish Highlands where he had gone to work. Cronin then went for a walk in the 'drizzling rain and came upon an old farmer, Angus by name, who was digging a patch boggy heath. Cronin told the farmer, who had known of his writing, what he had just done. Angus paused for long moments, then told him: "No doubt you're the one who's right and I'm wrong. My father ditched this bog all his days and never made a pasture. But pasture or no pasture, I canna help but dig. For my father knew and I know that if only you dig long enough, its here a pasture can be made." Cronin listened and stood. He knew that the farmer possessed what he did not Stubbornness to succeed, a resolution to accomplish. In an instant he saw his weakness had triumphed. He retraced his picked up the bundle of manuscript from where he had "it, dried it, and began anew. He would dig, as the farmer dug; he would work whatever the obstacles or the cost. It was his turning point. The book he had discarded, Hatter's Castle, later sold five million copies, was translated in twenty-two languages, and altered his life completely,
   These are "turning points." Herbert Armstrong had one too, and it changed his life.
   When he was sixteen, he got a job as a waiter in a resort hotel in Altoona, a small town only a few miles east of Des Moines. The owner saw something special in the boy and took an interest in him. In the evening, after work, he and young Herbert would sit for long hours on the porch and have lengthy discussions about life, about the great thoughts one could discover in books, about human ambition and creativity. The talks were like flint that penetrated the boy's mind and ignited the spark that had lain dormant. Before the summer ended, the spark had become fire.
   From that time on, Armstrong began to believe in himself, to know his worth as a human being, to understand for the first time the potential that lay within him.
   "My ambition was aroused," he recalls. "I wanted to become an important somebody."
   Years later, when he formulated The Seven Laws of Success, one of the best-read booklets published by the Worldwide Church of God as a free educational service in the public interest, he wrote that the crucial initial "law" is to "Fix the right goal." But not just any goal. "One could set a goal in which he had little or no interest, and drift into inaction. The right goal will arouse ambition. Ambition is more than mere desire. It is desire plus incentive — determination — will to achieve the desire. The right goal will be so intensely desired it will excite vigorous and determined effort. It will be the one with incentive."
   Ambition had been kindled. But the specific road he would travel was as yet unclear.

Moving Up

   That summer in Altoona inspired him to launch into a rigorous program of self-education. After school, he took to spending hours in the city library, steeping himself in philosophical thought, in the lives of great figures throughout the ages, in literature, history, and business administration. He read the works of Plato from Charmides through the ten books of the Republic and the twelve books of Laws; he pored over Aristotle's Organum, the six treatises on logic, and the great Greek philosopher's Metaphysics, Physics, On the Heavens, History of Animals, Rhetoric and Poetics; he read the works of the Roman stoic philosopher Epictetus. This absorption of great ideas set down by great minds, begun in his teens, never left him.
   The summer after his sophomore year in high school, Armstrong thought he had found his calling — he would become a teacher. Discovering that he could obtain a teaching certificate simply by passing a county examination, he obtained copies of earlier tests and studied the questions. Then he began to cram furiously, reviewing by himself all the material he would be required to teach, and even covering some subjects he had never studied. The exam posed no problem — he passed with a grade high in the 90's.
   Then, duly certified, he began looking for someone — and somewhere — to teach. One day, while visiting a cousin who lived on a farm south of Des Moines, he heard of a school that lacked a teacher for the coming year. Quickly he learned the name of the school board head, presented himself as a candidate for the job, and was summoned for an interview before the full board, all of them farmers.
   Looking at him, they were more than a little dubious that a seventeen-year-old teacher would be able to handle rawboned eighteen and nineteen-year-old boys, some of whom doubtless would be taller and huskier than he, should disciplinary problems rise, Armstrong however, was untroubled by doubts. "I intend to introduce an athletic program," he told the board confidently He had training in football, basketball, track, and tennis. Out on the playgrounds, I'll be one of these boys. I know how to get with fellows my own age. There won't be any problems.
   Besides, I've been wrestling since I was eleven and if one of them does get smart, I'll have a hammerlock on him before he knows what has happened."
   His self-confidence convinced the board members and he was hired for the fall term. Fearing opposition at home, he kept his plans secret. The day school was to start he slipped out of his room at dawn, suitcase in hand, and crept down the stairs. But the elder Armstrong, suspecting from his son's secretive demeanor of the past few days that something was up, had arisen earlier and was standing like a menacing sentry at the foot of the stairs.
   "Just where do you think you're going, young man?" his father demanded. Herbert tried to explain but his father, stern-faced, and ordered: "You march right back upstairs and unpack the suitcase. And don't let me hear any more of this tomfoolery about dropping out of high school to become a teacher at your age!"
   Chastened, Herbert plodded back to his room and unpacked, his academic career ended before it had begun.

   Two more years of school followed and, as graduation day approached, young Armstrong was still fired up with the zeal, instilled in him by his friend the resort owner, to scale some peak in life, though he knew not what or where. One day, while browsing in the public library, he leafed through a book called Choosing A Vocation. His eyes caught the section on journalism and advertising. At once he was riveted. He read on and long before, he reached the end was convinced he could be successful in the, advertising business.
   His uncle, Frank Armstrong, his father's younger brother, was in fact one of Iowa's leading admen, but until then the field had not entered Herbert Armstrong's mind. Next day, he went to Uncle Frank, told him of his decision, and asked for advice.
   In advertising, Frank told him, practical experience was the greatest teacher of all. "No college or university in the country has yet offered a course in this profession that is worth a Nickel," he declared.
   Acting upon Uncle Frank's advice, Herbert went to work in the Want-ad department of the Des Moines Daily Capital at a starting salary of six dollars a week.
   On his first day out, a young man who had been assigned to teach him the techniques accompanied him. Armed with copies of the newspaper and blank forms for want ads, they headed for the rooming house district where, with luck, they would find some clients.
   I'll stop in at a couple of places," said the young man, "just to show you how to do it; then I'll go back to the office and you're on your own."
   At the first door, the landlady, instantly spotting a solicitor by the newspaper and want-ad blank in his hand, attempted to shut the door as she snapped, "I don't want to run any ads." The young man quickly put his foot in the door, a traditional trick of door-to-door salesmen, and said: "Do you know Mrs. Jones, who owns a house in the next block? She put her ad in the Capital and got more than a dozen calls from people wanting to rent her room. The reason you didn't get results is that you put your ad in the wrong paper."
   The landlady was unimpressed and, forcing his foot from the door, she slammed it shut. When the response was the same at the next house, the young man said brightly to Herbert: "Well that shows you how to do it. Hope you sell a lot of ads. See you at the office." He walked off.
   Young Armstrong quickly realized he had been shown how not do it. Approaching the next house, he hid his newspaper and add blanks under his coat. I hope you haven't rented your room yet," he smiled at the opening the door, "May I see it?" He followed her in, round the second-floor bedroom quickly, and, pulling an ad blank form from under his coat, began writing hurriedly.
   Here, now," she challenged him, "what do you think doing? I thought you wanted to rent a room?"
   Armstrong spoke rapidly. "This is a lovely room," he told her.
   But you haven't rented it because you are not a professional advertising writer." Before she could ask him to leave, he read a glowing description of the room he had jotted down. The fine, flowing prose convinced her. "Well," she admitted, "I'd certainly want to rent that room instead of those in the ordinary ads," she said. Armstrong sold her three times the usual amount of space. He did equally well at other places he visited and returned to the office that after-noon with a thick handful of orders.
   He sold ads in person, by telephone solicitation, and through, the mail; evenings he devoted to reading everything he could find about advertising. He subscribed to the trade journals of the profession and read them avidly. He studied the style of prominent Advertising writers. He was acting on Uncle Frank's advice to educate himself.
   When a competing newspaper offered him a job at a salary increase of two dollars, he went to see Uncle Frank again. With an oblique reference to Herbert's father, Uncle Frank advised the boy to stay where he was.
   "I've noticed a tendency in some branches of our family to keep shifting around from one thing to another, never staying long enough to make a success of something. One of the great success lessons you need to learn is persistence — to stay with a thing.
   "You wouldn't learn any more about the advertising business over there than you're learning where you are. The only advantage is the two dollars more a week. I think the time has come, for you to pay the two dollars a week to learn the important lesson of staying with a thing."
   Armstrong stayed, but a year later, when he felt he was ready, he decided to move on, choosing his next step carefully: a step not so high he would be unable to manage it well, yet high enough to be a measurable advance. Then, with remarkable aplomb, he walked into the offices of the Merchants Trade Journal in Des Moines, an important publication devoted to retail selling, and announced to the managing editor:
   "I have decided to join your advertising department. I will report for work in two weeks."
   The editor, at first startled, then amused, by Armstrong's, brashness, told him there were no openings, pointed to the door and turned back to his work. But Armstrong had come prepared. He spoke quickly urgently, as he explained that the Journal had no want ads at all, should have them and that he, Herbert Armstrong, late of the Des Moines Daily Capital, would provide his publication with two full pages of these ads for each issue. The profits, he pointed out, would be significant. By then the editor was listening hard.
   "One thing I've learned," Armstrong said, talking easily now, is how to bring in want ads by mail." He explained this had not been done before. Thus, early, young Armstrong had discovered that resourcefulness — "the ability to think a problem or obstacle through, to find a better way" — is a key factor in achieving per­sonal success. It is number five in The Seven Laws, and it worked well for him in his second job.
   When the interview ended, Armstrong said: "I'll report for the first Monday morning next month." This time the editor agreed there would be a place for him. Armstrong remained with the Journal for three years. He sold ads and wrote copy. He did "dummying," arranging textual material that had been set into type, and illustrations on blank pages to show how the publication would look before being printed and bound. He traveled around the country interviewing merchants, businessmen, and chamber of commerce representatives in a search for ideas and articles for publication. He conducted surveys that enabled retail stores to improve sales figures by zeroing in on customer likes and dislikes.
   Leaving the Journal, he worked for six months for the South Bend, Indiana Chamber of Commerce, and selling memberships in a proposed motor club on commission. He did not make enough money to support himself so he left for Danville, Illinois, hoping to land a job with the chamber of commerce there.
   There was no job and Armstrong found himself penniless, with no place to sleep, miles from parents and home.
   "I had to think — and think fast," he said. And he did. Remembering the surveys of retail stores he had conducted for the Journal, he went to see the advertising business manager of the local newspaper. He described the surveys, pointing out that they could be offered to advertisers who would use the information to make their ads more responsive to the public.
   Armstrong promised that the surveys would double the advertising revenue of the paper. "I'll buy it," the business manager said. Once again, Armstrong had used his rule of success — be resourceful — to create a position for himself.
   Since, in this position, his income depended on commissions, Armstrong sought a job that carried the security of a salary. For two months he tried to sell pianos but didn't make a single sale. Uncle Frank again came to the rescue with a temporary position selling advertising space for a special "Bank Building" issue Of The Northwestern Banker, a banking journal distributed in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and the Dakotas.
   Armstrong's genius for selling advertising, coupled with his determination and drive, won for him a permanent account, and he acted as the advertising solicitor of that banking publication for several years. Later he moved to Chicago, where he rented office space in the Advertising Building at 123 West Madison Street, in Chicago's famed Loop section. He was twenty-three then, a slim, good-looking young man, with black, shining hair slicked back, and pince-nez glasses. His business and personal friendships included prominent bankers, merchants, and businessmen.
   During these years, he lived at the old Hotel Del Prado, a four-story frame hotel on the Midway, near the University of Chicago, The building has long been gone, its name given to a skyscraper on the shore of Lake Michigan. Armstrong lived there until Loma Dillon entered his life.
   Loma was to become his wife, the mother of his four children and, in one of the most incredible stories in the history of religion to lead him to a discovery that would change his own life and the lives of many millions throughout the world.

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Publication Date: 1980
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