Open to question is the wisdom of writing the biography of a man yet alive, for it is not easy to tell the whole truth about one who is likely to read what has been written. If only the good things are said about him, it might scarcely seem an authentic or full biography. Dr. Ironside himself doubted the wisdom of this work from its first suggestion, and when his consent was finally given to the publishers and the author selected, he wrote me saying, “I certainly do not want the biography written in a way that would glorify this poor sinner. When your name was suggested I felt as though I could trust you to tell (partly) the truth. You will never know the whole—but I do not like to think of your having to bother very much about it.”
That the life story of this servant of Christ should be chronicled for others was inevitable, for there is so much in that life. Equally certain, though the author was the only one who knew it then, was the fact that it should be written by me. For a period of five or more years I had prayed that, when the time should come for Dr. Ironside’s biography to be recorded, I might be the one selected for the task. I was in no haste to write, for I thought it would best be written after he had been taken from us. At any rate, it was with only slight surprise that I received a long-distance telephone call two years ago inviting me to prepare the work and to complete it by this summer.
As I have said, I seriously doubted the advisability of publishing the biography while Dr. Ironside would be with us. But the coming of the request as an answer to prayer and the realization that it might have a wider distribution and be used for greater good if he were still ministering among us overweighed objections.
Job declared, “Oh… that mine adversary had written a book.” Certainly one’s enemy would say the very worst about him. Equally, one’s friend will report as favorably as he can. As his friend I have sought to be wary of this latter fault, and I have also been forewarned by an esteemed brother who, knowing I was beginning the assignment, sent me a copy of J. N. Darby’s letter, On the Praise of Men. Hence, in writing this book, I have sought to glorify—not a man but the Lord and Saviour of that man who emulates the Apostle Paul in thinking of himself as the chief of sinners.
“Love covereth a multitude o sins,” and doubtless my sincere affection for H. A. Ironside may blind my eyes to failures that others may see and of which he himself may know. But even if I were to see these sins of omission or commission—of what value would it be to record them in this volume? All too many of the saints are taking note of the faults in their brethren. I have written of Dr. Ironside as I know him and as the records tell his story. If I have omitted to speak of some unhappy failing, it is because I have not observed it; even if I had, I could see no merit in its being brought to light. For this is not the story of the private life of a man but the record of the public ministry of a servant of Christ and brother in the Lord.
Preparatory to the actual work on the manuscript I read, or reread, several outstanding biographies, religious and secular, as The Life of Andrew Murray, J. Du Plessis; The Life of Madame Guyon, T. C. Upham; Memoirs of Robert Murray McCheyne, Andrew A. Bonar; The Life of Alexander Whyte, D.D., G. F. Barbour; Yankee from Olympus (Justice Holmes and His Family), Catherine Drinker Bowen; Peabody of Groton, Frank D. Ashburn; and Dean Briggs, Rollo Walter Brown. Upon the completion of this interesting and enlightening task I thought I saw the pattern of the biography to be written. It would be filled with Ironside’s letters. Gems of wisdom would glisten on every page. The biographee’s philosophy of life, his method of sermon preparation, his correspondence with scholars and friends of lesser intellect would compose the book.
Then began my second and more important work of preparation—the reading of the seven thousand pages of diary material which Dr. Ironside has written over many years. These all were penned in his scrawling handwriting. Following that, I perused hundreds of his letters which he had written to institutions and individuals, and which were placed at my disposal by gracious mutual friends. The pattern of the work took on a new shape after this. HAI is not a dreamer, a philosopher, a man of words; he is a man of action.
So it is that I have set down a running narrative, as it were, of a man constantly “on the move” for Christ’s sake for more than fifty years. This work could not have been completed without the Lord’s help, nor without the tireless cooperation and confidence of its subject, and the gracious and enthusiastic assistance of many others. Acknowledgments are gladly made to all who had a part in the publication of this book, and will be found on another page.
There is doubtless much that I have overlooked in chronicling the lifework of Harry Ironside. What I have written has been done to the end that Christ in all His power and beauty and faithfulness may be seen in what has been wrought through His servant, and that men and women may be encouraged along life’s path and incited to fuller yieldedness to the Lord through the record of a faithful steward.
E. S. E.