The year 1930 was an epochal one in the life of Harry Ironside, not only because he delivered 653 messages from the Word of God and had the joy of seeing hundreds profess to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour, but also because by God’s grace it marked another milestone in his service of love in Christ’s name.
The year began in the same place it ended—in the Oakland Gospel Auditorium as the Watch Night Service came to its close, and in his home in reunion with his beloved family for a few days. Then, his diary reveals, in an almost incredibly short time he felt the need to leave his family again.
January 4, 1930
Left Oakland for Los Angeles this morning—arriving at 11:40 P.M. Staying at the Bible Institute. Am here to conduct a two-weeks’ Bible Conference in the Glendale Presbyterian Church, and also to give some addresses at the Institute.
Hard to leave the family with whom I have had only two weeks after an absence of practically eleven months—but it is “for His Name’s sake” that “I am a stranger in the earth.”
Harry was able to get back to Oakland for two days before it was necessary for him to leave again for an extended trip which would include series of meetings in Chicago, Racine, Augusta, St. Louis, and Galveston by the end of March. Before retiring on the night prior to his departure he wrote again of the hardship that separation from his loved ones imposed upon him.
January 28, 1930
Had good visit with my folks after the meeting tonight. It is going to be hard to leave tomorrow, but it is “for His Name’s sake.”
Ironside was never free of this longing to be with his family, nor of his loneliness without them. He never lost consciousness that in the normal course of life a man’s place and duty are with his family. This is illustrated by a letter I received from him several years later when I wrote to inquire about Mrs. Ironside’s health after she had suffered a severe coronary occlusion.
December 16, 1939
My dear Brother:
Thanks for your letter. It is always good to hear from you. Mrs. Ironside has been making steady progress, and now the doctor feels she should go to a hospital for X ray and some tests; so I am going to take her over to Geneva today. We shall know a little later just how things are.
I do wish I did not have to be away so much while she is ill, but that is one of the trials of the path which one must endure while seeking to minister Christ to others. I often feel like saying with the bride in the Song of Solomon, “They made me the keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard have I not kept.”
After a stopover at Albuquerque, Ironside proceeded eastward. February second fell on a Sunday in 1930. HAI was on the train en route to Chicago, and this troubled him:
February 2, 1930
Sorry that circumstances seemed to make it necessary to be on the train for the Lord’s day. I dislike this very much and had hoped I might have stayed in Albuquerque at least for the Lord’s Supper—but was afraid No. 2 might be late getting into Chicago. However, I feel worn and half-sick, so perhaps it is just as well that I can lie here and doze. Hope to be rested up when I get to my destination tomorrow night, D.V.
The train was late but caused no inconvenience, and Ironside began his ministry at the Founder’s Week Conference, promoted by and held at the Moody Bible Institute every year. During the week he had an interview with James M. Gray, president of the Institute, in which Dr. Gray urged upon him a more permanent connection with M.B.I. But Harry was not certain that this was the Lord’s will and suggested that they carry on for the present with the arrangement already in operation—HAI to assist at Moody conferences when invited and if he was free to accept.
Following the Founder’s Week Conference Ironside was engaged for a series of meetings at Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois. An important interview took place at this time. It is noted briefly in the diary:
February 17, 1930
An exceedingly full day. After breakfast and devotions wrote a number of letters. Then down town [in Chicago] for a conference with Thomas S. Smith and another elder of the Moody Church, relative to possibly being called to be the minister there.
HAI had visited the Moody Church on three occasions prior to this, for a series of Bible studies. The first time was one month after the new $1,000,000 building was completed in 1925. P. W. Philpott was the pastor of the church at that time and invited Ironside for two weeks. But Dr. Philpott was called away to Winnipeg during the engagement and asked Harry to remain for a third week, which he did. He visited the church again the following year, in December 1929, an appointment already mentioned. Some seven months prior to this interview with Smith, a committee from the Moody Church had waited upon Ironside and asked him if he would consider accepting a call to be its pastor, since Dr. Philpott had resigned. Harry answered then with a decisive, “No!” He could not entertain such a suggestion for a moment! He felt utterly unqualified for the position; but more important than that, his views as to the Christian ministry, views held generally by Plymouth Brethren, did not fit in with becoming the pastor of a church. However, HAI now began to sense that perhaps it might be the will of God for him to consider the call seriously. He prayed a great deal about it. If he should accept the call, would he be repudiating what he had long believed and taught about the ministry? More and more it seemed to impress itself upon him that the opportunity was a definite call from God. Yet he hesitated—his convictions long held against a one-man ministry, his fear that he might not satisfy the congregation, and his inexperience in administrative work seeming to erect a barrier against accepting the call. On the other hand, he thought, it was not a one-man ministry, after all, for Moody Church had two assistant pastors who helped in various ways—calling on the membership, attending the business details, overseers of various responsibilities. The people there had been blessed through his teaching of the Word on his visits and they seemed to want him. The Moody Church was directed by an official board of fifty-five men, who would be able to advise in administrative matters.
Finally Harry concluded that he might be able to accept without compromising his conscientious convictions regarding ordination by man and other things. Therefore he told Thomas Smith that he would put the question to a test. The matter was to be placed before the executive committee of the church. If the executive committee was absolutely unanimous in wishing him to accept the call, he would permit them to put his name before the congregation, and the same stipulation should apply to the congregational meeting—if the vote should be absolutely unanimous, he would accept the call for one year’s trial.
A week later HAI was in Racine, Wisconsin. He had returned to his hotel room after an evening service when he received a telephone call. His diary entry tells the story:
February 24, 1930
At 10:30 the phone rang. Long distance—Chicago calling. Mr. Herring [assistant pastor of Moody Church] notified me that I was unanimously called to be pastor of the Moody Church. I go in tomorrow to talk it over.
This overture was that of the executive committee. The congregational meeting was yet to be held.
February 25, 1930
A hectic day, yet very satisfactory. Left for Chicago at 7:45 A.M. In conference for nearly two and a half hours with leaders in the Moody Church. A very blessed spirit prevailed and I am happy over the prospects of intimate association with them.
Saw Jim Sutherland in the afternoon.
Sutherland and Ironside had discussed at some length the possibility of the call and had prayed about it.
From Chicago Harry went to Augusta, Georgia, his first visit to that city and his diary of March 5 states:
Tonight the Moody Church votes on my nomination as pastor. Later—Wire received at 11:20 P.M. from Ass’t. Pastor Porter telling me the church called me unanimously.
H.A. Ironside with Thomas S. Smith
Long-Time Elder of Moody Church, 1935
Harry sent a telegram in reply, accepting the call. The conditions stipulated by him were to hold: it was to be a one-year trial. Further, it had been agreed that should the decision be in the affirmative on both sides, he must fulfill appointments to which he had committed himself throughout the month of August. He would have only a few Sundays free in the meantime— March 16 and then, beginning on April 27, a period of eight weeks with the exception of two Sundays. All these he would give to the Moody Church, becoming its pastor on March 16 but not assuming full duties until September 6.
It was only ten days, then, from his call to his next visit to Chicago. Of that initial appearance as pastor in the pulpit where there had been such illustrious servants of the Lord as Dwight L. Moody, Reuben A. Torrey, A. C. Dixon, Paul Rader, and P. W. Philpott as his predecessors, let his diary speak again:
March 16, 1930
My first Lord’s day as pastor of the 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 1 Corinthians 2:2. 3,500 were present and there
as 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 3,700 people. Five confessed Christ.
It seemed a further token of God’s gracious pleasure.