HARRY A. IRONSIDE
1876 - 1951
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
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
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
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, Arizona.
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 Bible Institute.
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 Church
At 9:15 a.m. a few of us broke bread in the
feast of remembrance in church study.
At 10:45 I preached on I Cor. 2:2. 3500 present
and there was a serious impression.
Dinner with the Herrings
At 5:50 I spoke briefly to the C.C. Club in
Torrey Hall, on "Life at Best."
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
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 Parenthesis.
Almost lost in the seemingly
more important phases of his ministry is the
fact that he is the author of the well known