“From a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” 2 Timothy 3:15
1. Roots In Deep And Sacred Soil
On the morning of the fourteenth of October 1876, in a modest home in Toronto, Canada, what had been anticipated as an occasion of greatest blessing appeared to have turned into tragedy. The firstborn son of a godly young couple, John and Sophia Ironside, was set aside as lifeless by the attending physician so that he might give total attention to the mother, who lay weak and dangerously ill. Forty minutes later, to the doctor’s astonishment, a nurse who was assisting him detected a pulsebeat in the infant. The physician instructed her to place the child in a hot bath immediately. In a moment the newlyborn baby let out a lusty cry. This book tells the story of that boy who was virtually brought back from the dead—Henry Allan Ironside.
For several generations the Ironsides had been Aberdeenshire farmers. Midway through the nineteenth century, however, an Ironside came along who was disenchanted with the ways of the old country and decided to trust his future to the great new western world across the ocean. So it was that John Williams Ironside departed from the home of his fathers in New Deer, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, and sailed for Canada. His first stopping place in the new country was Fergus, Ontario, where he was welcomed by another John Ironside, his uncle. A short time later he moved to nearby Elora.
As soon as John found employment in Elora he united with the Baptist Church, for he had been converted to Christ when he was a mere lad. Here he began to develop as a lay preacher. At a social function he met a young lady who sang in the choir of the Methodist Church, Sophia Stafford. The couple became engaged and when John was twenty-three years of age, he and Sophia married. They settled in Toronto, where the young husband obtained a position with the Merchants Bank of Toronto and rose to become a teller.
As a result of happy spiritual fellowship with Christians of their acquaintance, the Ironsides identified themselves with a group known as the Brethren.1 Sophia was an ardent soul winner, as was her husband also. While John devoted his evenings to proclaiming Christ at street meetings and in theaters, and Sundays to preaching in the park, Sophia was zealous to bear witness to Christ at every opportunity. Their modest home became a gathering place for many believers. It was also a haven of rest for a number of traveling ambassadors for Christ. John was called “The Eternity Man” because of his custom of inquiring of almost every new acquaintance, “Where will you spend eternity?” He looked forward to and reveled in these visits of his brethren, with whom he spent many hours discussing God’s Word and seeking to learn more of Christ.
In 1878 a second son, John Williams Ironside, Jr.2 was born to John and Sophia. Three weeks later, bereavement and sorrow came to this little home, for the father of the family became ill with typhoid and before many days passed went to be with his Lord. He was in his twenty-seventh year. Sophia, sustained by the comfort of the Scriptures and secure in God’s promises, did not sorrow as others who have no hope. But she would have been less than human, less than the tender and loving wife of a devoted husband, had she shed no tears at his going—not for him, but for her loneliness and for her dear children. These boys were to grow up with no personal recollection of their father, who was held in such happy and revered memory by his brethren throughout Canada and the United States. Many years later, when the older son returned to Toronto as a preacher of the gospel, he was asked again and again if he was the son of John Ironside, The Eternity Man. He found scores of his father’s converts continuing in the faith and living for Christ.
John Williams Ironside left burning a light that was still shining to Christ’s glory after a quarter of a century.
1 Called also, “Plymouth Brethren.” Those who assemble and worship according to the principles of these Christians refuse, and in fact disapprove, any name that would distinguish them from all of God’s people. They prefer to be spoken of simply as brethren, or believers, or saints, or Christians. In these pages they are referred to as the Brethren (with a capital B) in order to differentiate between them and other brethren in Christ who may have denominational affiliations or other ties.
2 John W. Ironside, Jr., served in the Philippine Islands during the Spanish-American War. At its conclusion he settled for a long time in Manila, returning later to Canada, where he died of sleeping sickness.