American Bible teacher, writer, and pastor
Christ is a
substitute for everything, but nothing is a substitute for Christ.
No one who really wants to count for God can afford to play at Christianity.
If lips and life do not agree, the testimony will not amount to much.
Time is given us to use in view of eternity.
No one ever lost out by excessive devotion to Christ.
Christianity is Christ!
Error is like leaven, of which we read, "A
little leaven leaveneth the whole lump." Truth mixed with error is equivalent to
all error, except that it is more innocent looking and, therefore, more
dangerous. God hates such a mixture! Any error, or any truth-and-error mixture,
calls for definite exposure and repudiation. To condone such is to be unfaithful
to God and His Word and treacherous to imperiled souls for whom Chris died.
Ironside was one of the greatest Bible
teachers the world has ever known. For some 50 years he went up and down America
teaching and preaching the Word of God. He was the ultimate in his field.
Coupled with this was his successful ministry as pastor of Moody Church from
1930 to 1948 which made him the most known Christian leader of his era, outside
of Billy Sunday whose funeral he preached. He was
affectionately known as "the archbishop of Fundamentalism."
John and Sophia (Stafford) Ironside were a
godly couple with his occupation being that of a bank teller. They were both
tremendous soul-winners. The father spent evenings at street meetings, in halls
and in theaters, and on Sundays held services in the park. His mother likewise
testified everywhere. They were identified with the Plymouth Brethren. The
father was known as "The Eternity Man," because every time he met
someone he asked them, "Where will you spend eternity?" In the
providence of God this amazing soul-winner died at age 27 from typhoid when
Henry was two years old.
Henry's birth was almost a casualty. The child
was thought to be dead, so attention was given to the dangerously ill mother.
Forty minutes later a nurse detected a pulse beat and at the doctor's order put
the baby in a hot bath which soon produced a demonstration of his vocal chords.
Following the death of the father, the 26-year
old widow, who also had a new baby along with two-year old Henry, began to sew
trying to hold the family together.
Harry had religion but not Christ. He was
memorizing Scripture from three years of age and up, starting with Luke 19:10.
Ironside read the Bible through 14 times by his 14th year. Two frequent visitors
were Scotch evangelists, Donald Munro and John Smith. They would always ask
Harry "are you born again?" He always replied that he passed out
tracts, memorized Scripture, went to Sunday School. He was quite relieved when
he heard his mother make plans to go to Los Angeles in 1886 when he was ten
years old. At least they would not be bugging him anymore, he mused.
A train ride from Toronto to Los Angeles was
an adventure for an adult, let alone a child of ten. They arrived on December
12, 1886. Harry was surprised to find out there was no Sunday School in his
neighborhood, so at age 11 he started one. He called together boys and girls and
talked to them about his purpose. He sent out the boys to collect sacks and
burlap bags and he organized the girls into a sewing club. They sewed the burlap
together and soon a burlap tent was made that could accommodate 100 people.
There was no teacher, so Harry taught, and the average attendance was 60
including a few adults. Harry would always revert to Isaiah 53 when he couldn't
think of anything else to say. People would say, "God bless this little
preacher" and Harry assumed himself saved. In 1888 Moody
came to Los Angeles for a campaign. Meetings were held in Hazzard's Pavilion
which seated 8,000. Finding no seat he climbed up on a trough-like girder that
extended from the second gallery up to the apex of the roof. Moody excited Harry
and he prayed, "Lord, help me some day to preach to crowds like these, and
to lead souls to Christ." Forty-two years later he became pastor of the
church Moody founded. In 1889 his mother said happily one day after school,
"Guess who's here?" Harry thought it to be some lost relative, but it
was evangelist Donald Munro. As he arrived it was, "Well, well, Harry lad,
how you have grown! And are you born again yet, my boy?" His Uncle Allan,
who was in the room said, "Oh, Harry preaches himself, now." Undaunted
Munro said, "You are preaching, and yet you don't know that you're born
again! Go and get your Bible, lad." Young Ironside was really challenged.
Within a few weeks Harry gave up his Sunday School, for he felt he had no right
to open his mouth for God if he were unsaved. For six months he battled this
problem. Then in February, 1890, he went to a party, and Proverbs 1:24-32 came to
his mind. As soon as he could, he hurried home. After midnight, he fell on his
knees and said, "Lord, save me." He wondered about a lack of some new
emotion, but soon claimed the promise, rose from his knees - saved at age 13. He
later said, "I rested on the Word of God and confessed Christ as my Saviour."
Two nights later he attended a Salvation Army
street meeting and could not wait for a chance to say something. He asked if he
could testify and fire away he did. He preached from Isaiah 53:6 for one-half
hour forcing the Captain to pull his coattail, because they were late for the
meeting at the hall. The next day he won his first convert to the Lord -- a
70-year old Negro. He was taunted at school but held firm. In June he graduated
from grammar school. The year 1890 also saw his mother, Sophia, marry William D.
Watson, and young Ironside found a part-time job with a shoe-cobbler. Young
Ironside decided he needed no more education, and never attended school again.
His only eighth grade education was later regretted, but the Lord never held it
against him. He took full time employment with the Lamson Photo Studio, and
every night would attend one of the Salvation Army meetings. He spoke so often
he was called, "The Boy Preacher." He began to educate himself with
books. When not attending Army meetings, he would be giving out tracts or
holding his own street meetings. Soon Ironside was identified with the Salvation
Army. His zeal matched theirs, and soon he was put in charge of children's work.
At age 16 he was urged to become a cadet, and he decided to accept. He left the
photography business for the preaching business -- full time.
He entered the Oakland (California) Training
Garrison preparatory to becoming an officer in the Salvation Army. He finally
was commissioned and made a Lieutenant in the Army. He went forth to San
Bernardino, California, somewhat a believer of sinless perfection in 1892.
Ironside was switched around to several southern California cities to assist in
the various Army outreaches. Soon he was preaching over 500 sermons a year,
dealing with countless individuals. So thoroughly did he enjoy his work and so
busy did he keep himself that it was not until he was [about]19 that he had any
real chance to analyze "the second blessing" doctrine. He soon began
to see this "holiness" teaching was leaving many a spiritual person
derelict. He himself had to convince himself of his "holiness" before
he went to a "holiness" meeting, and to tell himself upon leaving that
now, at last, he was ready to receive "the blessing." He soon began to
see it was not the study of the Scriptures, but the lack of knowledge of them
that was causing many casualties. Now a captain at about 18 he submitted his
resignation to the Salvation Army. He was sent to the Beulah Rest Home near
Oakland, utterly worn out from five years of work. There were 14 others, broken
in health, trying to regain strength while contemplating their futures.
Counseling with others he soon discovered the problem. He was looking within to
the wrong person and wrong place for holiness, instead of without.
Ironside had met a Charles Montgomery, a
Brethren believer who gave him living quarters and access to his own large
library, in San Francisco. Soon he was asked to address a meeting of the
Brethren, and again he used Isaiah 53 which continued to evidently be his
favorite preaching spot. In 1896 (now 20 years old) he began "to break
bread" with the Brethren.
Henry Varley, British evangelist, came to San
Francisco in 1897 and Ironside helped in many ways during the campaign. He held
street meetings, ushered, ran the book table, and was a great help to the
campaign. The pianist for most of the services was another ex-Salvation Army
member, Helen Schofield, daughter of a Presbyterian pastor in Oakland. Love
blossomed and on January 5, 1898, Ironside and the young lady married. He was 21
and had been living by faith for some years now. The cupboards were often bare
in their small apartment in San Francisco. His mother's death in 1898 also added
to his trials.
Joy came into their home on February 10, 1899,
when the first child - a son, Edmund Henry was born. The Ironsides moved to a
home in Oakland in 1900 and Harry continued with his ministry as doors were
opened, speaking in some place nearly every night, and often two or three times
a day. He was beginning to be in greater demand among believers who were helped
by his expository preaching. When he had no meetings, he would go to the street
corners and preach to the passersby. Oakland became their headquarters until
1929. He preached in tents, Missions, Bible conferences and churches whenever he
was invited. More than once the small family was without funds and had to depend
wholly upon God to do something for them.
It was in 1903 that he received his first
invitation from the East, from believers in St. Cloud, Minnesota. On their way
home they only had funds to take them as far as Salt Lake City, Utah. So they
disembarked, obtained accommodations in a very inexpensive hotel. For 10 days
Harry spent every day and night visiting, distributing tracts from door to door
and street preaching. Ironside had little response spiritually and none
financially, so he sold a set of his books to a Baptist preacher to pay his
hotel bill. The 40 cents a day allotted for food ran out. Harry grabbed his
wife's hand and prayed, "O Lord, we claim this promise. We two agreed to
ask for this forty cents. If we do not receive it, I shall never believe this
verse again." He went into the streets, preached for forty minutes to a
good crowd of 300. After the service, discouraged, he was on his way to the
hotel, when two men ran after him, asked him how he lived, was told he just
trusted the Lord. They put coins in his palm and left. He was going to return
the coins when he found out they were Mormon elders, but they hurried off. He
counted the coins - 40 cents. The next morning he got a letter with $15 from
some who felt impressed that they needed money. They could now go home to
In 1904 an unusual conversion happened as the
family was traveling through northwestern Canada on a train. A Franciscan priest
joined Ironside and the conversation began. It was a marvelous conversion before
it was all over that Ironside often related.
A second son, John Schofield, was born on
August 18, 1905, and thereafter the mother, and firstborn who had traveled with
him almost all the time, was confined to their home to rear the children.
He already was beginning to write: his first
expository notes appeared in 1900, Notes on Esther. Notes on Jeremiah
in 1902, Notes on the Minor Prophets in 1904 and Notes on the Book of
Proverbs appeared in 1906. His writings would make him one of the most
prolific authors in the Christian field in the 20th century.
Soon he was teaching at the Mount Hermon Bible
Conference each summer. Then in 1911 he began his annual summer ministry to the
American Indians - at the Southeast Missionary Bible Conference near Flagstaff,
He continued to write; in 1910 came his Notes
on Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, in 1911 Lectures on Daniel the Prophet
came out and in 1912 his famous book - Holiness, the False and the True.
On June 1, 1914, he rented a store and started
the Western Book and Tract Company. His books were not being in much demand, and
he needed some sort of headquarters for them. This went well until the
depression [in] the late 1920s.
From 1916 to 1929, Ironside was constantly on
the move, preaching nearly 7,000 times to some 1¼ million people. No vacations,
always busy, even in sickness and weariness. In 1918 he preached at the Old Tent
Evangel in New York City for George McPherson, which opened up further doors of
contact. In 1924 he began to accept meetings under the direction of the Moody
This relationship deepened through the years.
In his "free" months he was engaged by the Brethren assemblies or by
other local congregations. In 1926 Dallas Theological Seminary asked him to come
for seven months a year as a full-time faculty member, but it had to be turned
down, although he was visiting lecturer from 1925 to 1943. A daughter, Lillian,
was born to Edmund [Ironside's son] in 1920, but because of the illness of the
mother who died of tuberculosis not long afterwards, was adopted by the
grandparents - the Harry Ironsides. The father later remarried, served the Lord
as Superintendent of the Southern Bible Institute, a school for colored people
in Dallas. In December of 1929 Ironside held his third series of services at
Moody Memorial Church, and after 11 months absence arrived home in Oakland on
December 22nd to see his family. In two weeks he was gone again. He now began
his ministry at the Moody Founder's Week Conference in February, 1930. On
February 17th his diary states, "Then downtown for a conference with Thomas
S. Smith and another elder of the Moody Church, relative to possibly being
called to be the minister there." He had preached there in 1925 and 1926
plus the above mentioned time. He had already been approached in 1929 since the
resignation of Dr. P. Philpott. He finally agreed that if he got an unanimous
call he would come for a one-year trial period. On March 5, the call was
unanimous. On March 8th he accepted. On March 16th he preached his first sermon
there - his diary speaks:
My first Lord's Day as pastor of Moody
At 9:15 a.m. a few of us broke bread in the feast of remembrance in church
At 10:45 I preached on I Cor. 2:2. 3500 present and there was a serious
Dinner with the Herrings
At 5:50 I spoke briefly to the C.C. Club in Torrey Hall, on "Life at
At 7:30 I preached on "God's Salvation and the Scorner's Doom." 2
Kings 7, to about 3700 people.
Five confessed Christ.
He would wind up his affairs in Oakland in
late August, and on December 31, 1930 Mrs. Ironside and Lillian were finally
able to join him. They took up their residence in the Plaza Hotel, right across
from the Church.
There was hardly a Sunday that went by from
that time on that did not have decisions or a capacity audience to hear Ironside.
A pattern set that continued until he left the Church. Ironside would leave
Chicago by train late Sunday night to minister in some other city, returning
usually on Saturday morning for the Sunday services at Moody Church. This would
be 40 weeks a year, traveling 30,000 miles annually. Frequently Saturdays and
whatever few other days in Chicago were taken up with callers, committee
meetings and correspondence.
In 1932 he took his first trip outside the USA
as he ministered on a boat cruise from Bermuda to Nova Scotia. In 1933 there was
a Century of Progress Campaign held in the summer. In November, 1935, Ironside
preached the funeral of Billy Sunday at Moody Church. His sermon was,
"Billy Sunday's Spiritual History - Without Christ; In Christ; For Christ;
With Christ." In February, 1936, he took his first overseas trip - to
Palestine. Thirty days were spent preaching in the British Isles, and the
Ironsides arrived back at New York on April 30th. Three more trips to the
British Isles followed, in 1937, 1938 and 1939. Britain was participating in the
Moody Centennial in 1937, and Will Houghton, MBI President asked Ironside and
Mel Trotter to go to Europe. Leaving January 29, they had great meetings. On the
night of their arrival of February 5th, Ironside preached on Romans 1:16 to
10,000 at Royal Albert Hall. He was to speak 62 times in his 32 days there. He
arrived home on march 14th.
Beginning with the first week of 1938,
Ironside became the writer of the International Sunday School Lessons, published
in the Sunday School Times. In the fall of 1938, he left again, this time
from Montreal on August 19th, accompanied by Stratton Shufelt, music director of
Moody Church. This was a tour of Ireland, Scotland, and England. Ironside spoke
142 times. They were in Glasgow for nearly a month, with crowds averaging 3,000
per night, with many saved. A ten-day series in London in Kingsway Hall
finalized the stay. Crowds of 2,000 attended each night. He left for home on
November 12th. In 1939 the purpose of the trip to England was 1½ months of well
needed rest, and then to be one of the speakers at English Keswick. They left
New York May 24th and returned August 1st. From 1939 to 1944 he continued his
travels in every direction averaging some 500 sermons per year. His son Edmund
died July 25, 1941, with the father preaching the funeral service. In 1942 he
became president of the Africa Inland Mission.
When Ironside took the pastorate of the 4,000
member Moody Church in 1930, the indebtedness was $319,500. At the Watch Night
Service, December 31, 1943, the last note of indebtedness was burned, during
which time the home outreach and foreign missions programs increased - amazing
for the fact that he was only home two days a week. When he was gone on Sundays,
the crowd would be down. His daughter that he raised, Lillian, married Gilbert
Koppin on June 10, 1944. A crowning evangelistic campaign was held February
10-27, 1944, back "home" in Oakland, California. Services were held in
the Oakland Civic Auditorium Theatre. Crowds started at 1,300 and ended with
2,500 with many saved. Ironside was now beginning to tire as he approached 70,
not that the age was so great, but simply keep in mind that he had been
preaching continually since age 14 with hardly any break.
Pastor and Mrs. Ironside were able to
celebrate their Golden Wedding Anniversary together, January 5, 1948, to be soon
followed by the death of Mrs. Ironside on May 1, 1948. Dr. Ironside resigned as
pastor on May 30,1948, and his farewell services were held at the church,
October 27th and October 31st. During his first 14 years there, only two Sundays
went by without seeing somebody saved. He had been a member of the faculty of
Moody Bible Institute in later years as well.
He then retired to Winona Lake, Indiana. He
married Mrs. Ann Hightower on October 9,1949, who became his constant companion
and helper during his few remaining months of failing eyesight. An operation
restored his vision and he set out for New Zealand on November 2, 1950. He
visited with his sister, Mrs. Robert A. Laidlaw and planned a preaching tour,
but death claimed him and at his own request was buried there. His other son
John died January 19, 1957.
His books poured forth through the years, too
numerous to mention here. Over 80 volumes have come from his pen. A D.L. degree
had come from Wheaton in June 1930, and on June 3, 1942 Bob Jones University
granted him an honorary D.D. degree. Many pulpits would not consider a boy with
an 8th grade education, but little is much - when God is in it.
His writings included addresses or
commentaries on the entire New Testament, all of the prophetic books of the Old
Testament, and a great many volumes on specific Bible themes and subjects. Some
of his later titles include Things Seen and Heard in Bible Lands, Lamp of
Prophecy, Changed by Beholding, The Way of Peace, and The Great
Almost lost in the seemingly more important
phases of his ministry is the fact that he is the author of the well known hymn,
above is one of 46 booklets by Ed Reese in the Christian Hall of Fame
series. These short biographies provide good material for Sunday School
lessons, family devotions, and reading for young people and adults.
Order/information from: Reese Publications, P.O. Box 5625, Lansing, IL
60438; Fax: 708-895-0298; E-mail: Kgreese@aol.com
Faith Hall of Fame