Lieutenant Ironside’s arrival in San Bernardino was in the middle of a Salvation Army evangelistic campaign, where he was sent to assist Captain John Read. The meetings in the Salvation Hall had been going on for some days. Already there had been a number of remarkable conversions to Christ and the hall was being filled to capacity every night.
Among the regular attendants whom the lieutenant noticed was a handsome, blond young man. He appeared to be immensely interested in all that was said, and on several occasions Harry tried to intercept him at the end of a service, but the young man slipped away before Ironside could catch him.
One night, however, this man was late for the meeting and the only seat he could find was in the front row. Lieutenant Ironside said to himself, “You won’t get away this time, my friend,” and the moment the benediction was pronounced he hurried down from the platform and seized the young man by the arm, inviting him to sit down for a moment. In the conversation that followed it developed that this man, who had been brought up in England and was quite evidently well educated, made no profession of being a Christian. In fact, after some probing on Harry’s part, the stranger admitted to having been an atheist at one time, but more recently an agnostic.
It seems that an intimate friend of the blond Englishman had been converted to Christ within the past several months, and the change in his life was so apparent and so great, including complete victory over a seemingly invincible drinking habit of many years, that the young man telling the story confessed to his interrogator that he now realized that nothing less than a supernatural power could have effected this amazing transformation in his friend. Therefore he himself, the blond chap reiterated, could no longer be an atheist.
Ironside asked him whether he had read the Bible. Yes, he had read some of it recently, but not a great deal. The four Gospels? Yes, he found it difficult to accept the miraculous.
“Well, how about the Old Testament?” Harry inquired.
In response, the young man said that, not only had he read some of it but also that he was impressed by the writing of the Prophet Isaiah.
“If I could become a Christian by believing Isaiah,” he said, “I think I might be persuaded to do so.”
This was the opportunity Harry had been looking for, and he took advantage of it. Opening his Bible, he said, “I’m going to read a passage from Isaiah. I’ll read about an unidentified man, and when I’ve finished, I want you to tell me his name.”
“Why, that would be impossible!” the young man answered. “I don’t know the Bible that well.”
“Try it and see,” the lieutenant said and began reading at Isaiah 53, verse 1, and continued through the whole chapter. When he had finished reading, he looked up into the other’s face and asked: “Tell me now, of whom was Isaiah speaking?”
Eagerly the young man exclaimed, “Let me read it for myself, sir!” to the officer who was at least ten years his junior.
Ironside handed him the Bible and watched as he read. He saw him furtively wipe away a tear. When the reading was finished, he remained quiet for a moment, and then said, “I must confess, it has to be—Jesus.”
“You’re right,” Lieutenant Ironside replied. “Now let me give you a nut for skeptics to crack. That description of the life and death of Jesus Christ was written seven hundred years before the Saviour was born. Can you account for this?”
“Can you prove that?” the self-professed agnostic asked. “How do you know it was written so long ago?”
It was here that some of young Ironside’s extensive reading bore fruit.
“Of course,” he said, “I’m accepting the record that Isaiah lived in the eighth century before Christ. If you reject the record of the Scriptures, I can’t prove it. But,” he continued, “there is something else in connection with the Scriptures that anyone who cares to investigate may prove to himself. The portion which we read a moment ago was translated from the Hebrew language into Greek and placed in the library of Ptolemy Philadelphus in Alexandria about 230 years before the birth of Christ. It must have existed in Hebrew for some time before being translated into Greek. At any rate, it was just as great a miracle for the prophecy to have been written in Greek over two centuries before Christ’s birth as it was for it to have existed seven centuries prior to His coming to earth. How could Isaiah have known of these things except by divine inspiration?”
At this, the strange young man rose to his feet and, without a word, hurried from the hall.
Several nights passed before the Englishman appeared again at the hall. He walked confidently down the aisle and seated himself in the front row, looking directly at Harry. The moment the meeting was opened for testimonies, he rose to his feet and spoke with boldness.
“My friends, I want to tell you tonight that after years of unbelief God has revealed to me, through Isaiah 53, Jesus Christ as my Saviour. I have read that chapter over and over again during the last few days and nights. I have been greatly troubled, feeling that I have sinned too greatly and too often for God ever to forgive me. But tonight I’m sure that He has done so, through Jesus’ death for me.
“There’s a confession I’ve got to make. Upon my graduation, as a civil engineer from Cambridge University in England, I was one of the first to be sent out to Palestine to survey the railroad from Jaffa to Jerusalem. I can’t tell you how strongly I was affected by all I saw in that country. The very stones of the ground seemed to rise up against my unbelief and to declare the Bible to be true. But I comforted myself by saying that it was all superstition. I refused to believe.
“One day a group of us engineers was taken by a guide to Gordon’s Calvary, that skull-like hill where General Gordon claimed that Christ was crucified. As we stood on that knoll it came to me that this was the place where Christianity began—and to me, Christianity was a delusion. My wrath was aroused. I burst forth in uncontrolled blasphemy against God and Christ, in cursing beyond description, so that even my ungodly friends were frightened and literally fled from the spot. Some told me afterward that they thought God would strike me dead then and there, so fierce was my desecration of that sacred place, so horrible my blasphemy against God.
“But, oh, my friends, I have lived to learn in the last few days that the One whom I cursed on Calvary’s hill was wounded for my transgressions, and bruised for my iniquities; the chastisement of my peace was upon Him, and with His stripes I am healed.”
The young man could say no more. He fell to his seat in tears, but the hearts of those who heard him were filled with joy. So, indeed, was Harry’s. His first sermon as a Christian had been from the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, and his first convert as a lieutenant came about through that same passage.