Every Sunday morning in San Diego the Salvation Army held their “holiness meetings.” Young Ironside attended regularly and listened to men and women who claimed to have received a second blessing from God the Holy Spirit. There were various names for the experience; but whatever the name, those who testified about receiving it would speak of having perfect sanctification, of having been cleansed from inbred sin, of having attained a higher life of perfect love. According to this doctrine, salvation consists of original cleansing from past sins and release from their penalty, both of which are received by faith in Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice. So far so good, but according to the proponents of the “holiness” teaching, even though justification is a free gift from God and is bestowed by Him upon a believing sinner as a result of the redemptive work of Christ, that justified position in God’s sight is forfeited if that same believer falls into sin. Consequently, so the “holiness” people say, he needs a second work of grace known as sanctification. He who would enjoy this state must experience three things: conviction of the need; complete surrender of everything to God—desires, hopes, and ambitions— laying all on the altar; and appropriation by faith of the incoming Holy Spirit, who would then burn out all passions and destroy all inbred sin. To reach this state, it was taught, would cause a person to be as pure as Adam was before he fell.
Ironside had no doubt about the sincerity of those who bore witness that they were recipients of this special work of grace, never for a moment questioning the genuineness of their experiences. To hear these people, most of whom were affiliated with the Salvation Army, tell of not having sinned for many years in thought, word, or deed; to be told that bad tempers had been quelled and rooted out, evil thoughts banished forever, and wicked desires absolutely destroyed—all this awakened in the young man an overwhelming ardor for a similar experience.
Harry was obliged to confess to himself that up to this time he could not claim freedom from sinful thoughts and deeds. When he was first saved, at the age of fourteen, he had thought that none on earth could have more joy than he had, none could be as close to God as he then felt himself to be. But he certainly could not say that sin had been eradicated from his life. He well remembered one occasion, within a few weeks after he had been born again, when, in the heat of anger, he struck his young brother so viciously that he knocked him to the ground. Instantly his own soul had been filled with shame, an emotion that only increased when John shouted in derision, “A fine Christian you are! Why don’t you go down to the Army now and testify? Tell them what a saint you are!”
Harry remembered now how humiliated and broken in spirit he had been, how he had rushed into the house and locked himself in his room, confessing his sin to God. In anguish he pled with God to forgive him, and then he also asked John to forgive him. But in that experience he had been made aware that, although he was a Christian as surely as God’s Word is true, he was certainly capable of sinning.
What was this second work of grace the Salvationists were claiming? How could he obtain it? He began to pray for and seek it in every conceivable way. Anything that gave even the slightest indication of lack of surrender on his part, he sought to put away. He gave up friends who seemed not to be perfected in holiness, and refrained from every sort of amusement. He even laid aside all his books, except the Bible and certain holiness writings, in his zeal to obtain the blessing that these others had. He felt that what they could receive and enjoy was for him, too, provided he would only meet the conditions.
To that end and after weeks of prayer, Harry made up his mind one Saturday during a fortnight’s mission in Los Angeles, to get away into some secluded spot and there, free from interruption and unhampered by interference of any kind, wait upon God and hold on to Him in faith until he received “the blessing of perfect love.” At eleven o’clock that night he took a train from the city to a country place about twelve miles distant and, leaving the train, walked along the road for a space and then turned off it to an empty arroyo. Falling on his knees beneath a sycamore tree, he besought God for hours, with tears and supplications, that He would show him anything within himself that hindered the blessing. There came to his mind certain private matters and, after struggling for a long time against conviction about them, he finally sobbed out in all sincerity: “Lord, I give up all—everything, every person, every enjoyment that would hinder my living for Thee alone. Now, I pray Thee, give me the blessing.”
Insofar as the ardent young man was able to understand it, at that moment he was fully yielded to God. Unstrung by the long and fervent agonizing in prayer, he fell to the ground in a faint. In a few moments he was conscious of an ecstasy such as he had never before experienced. This surely is the coming of the Holy Spirit into my heart, he thought. This is what I’ve been seeking—and rising to his knees he cried to God, “Lord, I believe Thou dost come in. Thou dost cleanse me from all sin, and purify me from it. I claim it, Lord. The work is done. I am sanctified by Thy blood. Thou dost make me holy. I believe! I believe!”
He was so unutterably happy, so full of praise to God, that he forgot his weariness and rose to his feet and began to sing aloud. He must get back and tell others of this experience. The trains had stopped running, for it was then three-thirty in the morning. So he set out to walk to Los Angeles in order to get into the city in time for the early morning prayer meeting. Tired as he had been and still was, it seemed as nothing to him in the light of his new-found joy, and he stepped off the miles as if gliding on a cloud, arriving at the hall in time to give his testimony of the glorious experience. He was literally intoxicated with joyous emotion. For were his troubles not ended now? Did he not have complete sanctification? Was his heart not wholly pure?
The weeks that followed were filled with happy days. Harry continued to seek lost souls, but even while he was doing so he lived as if in a dream. Nothing was altered in his message to the unsaved, to whom he preached Christ crucified and risen again. But there was a change in his testimonies as he gave them night after night. He himself began to notice it as quickly perhaps as others did. Heretofore he had always held up the person of Christ; now he was lifting up the person of Harry Ironside. He pointed to himself as an example for others to emulate—an example of surrender and holiness.
It was not long, however, before he began to be conscious that all was not well. There crept into his heart desires toward evil, some of which he had never experienced before. But he was temporarily anaesthetized by the assurance that this was but temptation, and temptation is not sin. For a while this explanation seemed to give him some peace, but not for long: soon he observed himself slipping onto a much lower plane of living than he had marked out for himself. He noticed, too, that others who were “sanctified” were living on an equally low level with himself, if not actually lower. The rapture of his earlier experience had left him entirely. Doubts began to creep in and, with the doubts, fears. When he was busy proclaiming the gospel and seeing men and women come to Christ, he was happy; but when he allowed himself to think of his spiritual life and weigh it, he became extremely depressed. Oh well, doubts and depression were the devil’s darts and were not sin, he thought. Lust was not sin unless it was yielded to, and as long as he committed no overt acts, he was still “sanctified.”
It was in such a state that Cadet Ironside entered the Oakland Training Garrison in Oakland preparatory to becoming an officer in the Salvation Army. The trouble of spirit that he had before experienced increased there under strict discipline and enforced association with other young men of varied degrees of spiritual discernment, men who came from all walks of life, some of whom displayed very little “sanctification” indeed. As the term of six months’ training neared its close, Harry was in a miserable state. He thought that he was a backslider, at least, and feared that he might be lost eternally.
Twice he slipped out at night to a lonely place and sought to discover the mind of the Lord about these matters, praying all night. He asked God not to take His Holy Spirit from him and to cleanse him afresh from inbred sin. As he had done in the arroyo on the occasion of his first wondrous experience in a deserted place, he claimed the answers to his prayers by faith, and returned to his work refreshed. But shortly thereafter he would again be seized with doubts, spurred by his awareness of having even lately sinned in word and thought, and sometimes in deed. Extreme remorse would inevitably follow.
At length came the happy day of his commissioning, when he was made a lieutenant in the Salvation Army. He spent the preceding night in prayer, for he felt that he must not teach others unless he himself was completely “sanctified.” Freed now from confinement and from the sense of restraint, at sixteen years of age a full-fledged officer in the stalwart Salvation Army, the glorious army of the Lord, Lieutenant Ironside went down to San Bernardino, for the most part a happy young man. Conscientious almost to a fault, he became a strong advocate of “second blessing” teaching and even prayed that his dear mother might experience “the cleansing from inbred sin.”
It did not occur to Harry that Sophia, who had been a devoted Christian before he was born, knew her own heart too well to talk of sinlessness or to expect it in this life.