The Moody Church Years
“If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God;
if any man minister, let him do it as of
the ability which God giveth: that God
in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ,
to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever.
1 Peter 4:11
“Beside those things that are without,
that which cometh upon me daily,
the care of all the churches.”
2 Corinthians 11:28
There was an interval of six weeks between Harry Ironside’s first Sunday as pastor of the Moody Church and his second Lord’s day there. The time was spent in Texas—first in Galveston, where for a long time he had been booked for two weeks of Bible-teaching ministry, and then on to Dallas where, in addition to a month’s teaching at Dallas Theological Seminary, he had preaching appointments every Sunday and five nights a week. Despite the fact that his schedule always accelerated in Dallas, Harry welcomed his visits there. It was exciting to have the opportunity of teaching appreciative students, young men who would themselves be entering the ministry in a short time; he had great affection for Dr. Chafer and his associates at the seminary; and to go to Dallas meant that he would have a reunion with Edmund and his lovely family.
Ironside always had a love for music, especially the old gospel songs. It was a special treat for him when a talented vocal soloist sang a musical message immediately preceding his own message from the Word of God. Harry’s journals are punctuated with commendatory remarks concerning those who shared his services in this way from time to time. Among his favorites was a soprano whom he had first heard at Wheaton College in Illinois—Thelma Johnson. He used to speak of her as a Swedish nightingale. Another pet of his was Stratton Shufelt, minister of music at Moody Church as well as the soloist for nine years.
When Ironside went to Texas in 1930 he obtained engagements for Thelma Johnson (by that time Mrs. Porrit) to be his soloist at all his public services during the six weeks he was to be there.
It was characteristic of HAI to be scrupulous, not only in avoiding evil itself but even the slightest appearance of it. He therefore arranged that Thelma should travel to and fro between Chicago and Dallas on different trains from those he would take, and that she should be entertained in homes of ministers or friends in the vicinity where he would be preaching. He wanted no one to find any occasion for gossip.
The Texas ministry concluded in Dallas on April 25 after a staggering schedule of 67 messages in twenty-five days. Ironside arrived in Chicago on Saturday night, the twenty-sixth, and Sunday he began his second Lord’s day services at Moody Church. That night he wrote in his diary:
April 27, 1930
It seems good indeed to be back at Moody Memorial. I am happy to be trusted by God for this great work.
At 9:30 A.M. five of us broke bread in remembrance of the Lord—in my study.
At 10:10 A.M. I lectured to the Friendly Bible Class on 1 Thessalonians 1.
At 11 A.M. preached on “The Things That Are Made and His Workmanship—God’s Two Great Epic Poems.”
Out to Brother Tom Smith’s for dinner, then at 3 back to the hotel for an afternoon nap. Raining when I awoke.
Raining at night—only about 2,000 present. Preached on “The Brazen Serpent and the Uplifted Saviour.” Several in Inquiry Room.
The first time I visited the Moody Church was in the mid-thirties. HAI took me way upstairs to his study, a delightful hideout lined with books. I was fascinated by this secluded place and used to tease him, saying that the real reason he accepted the call to the church was on account of the study. Years later I was amused to discover in his diary that I was not so far wrong in my conjecture as might be supposed! Here is the entry of the Monday following his second Sunday as Moody’s pastor:
April 28, 1930
Have had a most interesting and really restful day. Spent hours fitting up my study in the Moody Church—one of the coziest nooks for a student I have ever seen.
Then wrote about 30 letters, partly dictated and partly by hand.
At night had cafeteria supper in the church and attended my first meeting of the committee who manages everything.
It seemed strange not to be preaching. I need some days like this occasionally, when change of work proves real rest.
Of course Harry’s acceptance of the call to the pastorate was based on much more than a cozy nook! Yet that room was a great joy to him. It was the first oasis he ever had that he could claim entirely for himself as a library and place for private meditation and study. It was there, too, that every Sunday morning at 8 o’clock for some years he commemorated the Lord’s death with several brethren of like mind.
The Moody Church has always been mission oriented. At the time Harry Ironside became its pastor there were ninety-two of its own members on mission fields in twenty-eight different countries. Sixty-seven of them received their complete financial support from the church and most of the others a fair portion of their maintenance from church contributions. One of the most important weeks of the Moody Church year is its annual missionary conference.
In 1930 the scheduled missionary rally began only a few days after the new pastor’s arrival from Texas. Like the conferences in earlier years, it was used by God as a means of calling some young men and women to serve Him wherever He might direct them, and of stirring others to prayer and the giving of their means so that the gospel of Christ might reach to the uttermost part of the earth. Harry was thrilled with the response. His diary entry at the close of the final day reflects this.
May 6, 1930
A great victory here on the Lord’s day. $50,000 oversubscribed, and only fifteen minutes of morning and fifteen minutes of night meeting devoted to money raising. “The people had a mind to give.”
Nor was the spiritual side disturbed. Scores offered themselves for service and six professed to be saved at night.
Succeeding weeks set a general pattern that HAI followed during the eighteen years he was associated with Moody Church. He would usually leave Chicago late Sunday night or early Monday morning to preach somewhere in the United States or Canada, returning to Chicago the next Saturday morning. As a rule Saturdays and any other weekdays that he was in Chicago were taken up with correspondence, committee meetings, and callers at the church.
Because of commitments Harry had made months before he accepted the Moody call, he left Chicago toward the end of June 1930 for a round of summer Bible conferences: Gull Lake, Cedar Lake, Eaglesmere, Montrose, Ocean Grove, and Colorado Springs. Finally, after seven weeks’ absence, he returned to Oakland. The night of his arrival he spoke in the Gospel Auditorium.
Eight wonderful days were spent at home before he had to go to Chicago to take up full duties of the pastorate. Then he bade farewell to the believers in Oakland. Because circumstances were such that Helen Ironside and Lillian could not yet accompany him, HAI departed alone once again. He took residence in the Plaza Hotel, located across the street from the church, where his small family would join him later. However, just the day before Harry left Oakland, John, who had taken a position with the Dollar Steamship Company back in June, returned home after his first round-the-world trip. Father and son had a happy reunion for almost twenty-four hours.
Besides Harry’s new church relationship there were still other events to make the year memorable for him. In June Wheaton College conferred an honorary degree on him, Doctor of Letters. The former Salvation Army lad was now Henry Allan Ironside, Litt. D.
Some of the Plymouth Brethren had been displeased when HAI accepted the call of Moody Church. They felt that in so doing Harry had turned his back on a conviction he had held for many years. They were opposed to what some of them termed a one-man ministry, and it was also contrary to their view that a servant of the Lord should receive a stipulated salary for preaching the Word of God.
Of course Ironside had weighed thoughtfully objections of this nature before accepting Moody Church’s invitation. He had put out the fleece and seemed to have an affirmative answer from the Lord. He could not ignore the importance and opportunity of the proposed ministry and concluded that it was from God. He had peace about his decision and, as the months rolled by, there were many evidences of God’s pleasure.
As to a one-man ministry, HAI had changed the title of the two assistant pastors—Harry Herring and Charles A. Porter—to Associate Pastor; for whereas, to be sure, theirs was not the major preaching ministry of the church, what they were doing in the way of visitation, counseling, the business of the church, and other Christian services was equally as much God-given activity as was his own work there.
When the matter of receiving a stated salary for preaching was mentioned, Harry used to say, with a twinkle in his eyes, “I accept a salary for administrating a $100,000 corporation. I throw in the preaching for nothing!”
Despite the ripple of criticism about his pastorship and honorary degree, Ironside never lost his esteem for the Plymouth Brethren. He admired them for their doctrinal stability and held them in affection as his brothers and sisters in Christ. As long as he lived Harry thought of himself as one of them. On such rare occasions as he happened to be free on a Sunday morning, he sought out a Brethren assembly where he might worship the Lord and break bread in remembrance of Him in fellowship with some of these dear saints.
Another important event marked 1930. In August, while Harry was attending the General Bible Conference at Montrose, Pennsylvania, as one of the speakers, he was appointed director of the Montrose Bible Conference Association to succeed its founder, Dr. Reuben A. Torrey, upon whose invitation he had first gone to Montrose.
But now it was Sunday, September 6, 1930. Dr. Ironside was back in Chicago to assume the responsibilities of shepherding Christ’s fold in the Moody Church, with its membership of about 3,500, an auditorium seating 4,040 persons, and its many activities at home and abroad.
September 6, 1930
The Lord’s day dawned cool and cloudy. In the A.M. over 3,000 present—a communion service. I preached on “Proclaiming the Lord’s Death Till He Come.”
In the afternoon went to Brother Burk’s Grace and Truth
Chapel, packed with about 300, and spoke on “The Father’s
House and the Kingdom.”
At night we had about 3,500 and God was with us in power.
A number confessed Christ at the close—some were apparently exceedingly bright and gave us great joy.
The evident blessing upon his work seemed another token of divine approval of the present and an earnest of things to come. The record of Harry’s first fifty-two Sundays at the church reveals that there was not one on which someone was not led to Christ. Harry was not a great one for counting numbers. Furthermore he was particular, even with himself, not to claim conversions without some clear evidence that it was true regeneration. Generally his diary entries read that such-and-such a number professed to be saved, or indicated that they had received Christ, or appeared to have made a decision for the Lord. The diaries show no groups of fifties or hundreds coming forward to confess the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour, but there is consistency in response to the gospel week after week. Here are some examples of Ironside’s comments in his journals: Fifteen confessed Christ tonight. Six or more professed to come to Christ. A fine audience and several in Inquiry Room. Only one lady made a profession tonight.
I think it is safe to say that during the eighteen years HAI preached the Word in Moody Church, very few Sundays passed without some unredeemed sinners turning to the Saviour.
The Moody pulpit afforded Ironside an even wider audience than its large membership supplied. Hundreds of students of the Moody Bible Institute worshiped there on the Lord’s day and, for a period of four years, the Institute’s radio station WMBI broadcast the church’s Sunday morning service. Later the church purchased radio time, first from Chicago’s WAIT, and after that from Station WJJD. The support for these broadcasts over commercial stations came voluntarily from listeners in large portions of Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana, and also from some places in Ohio and Iowa.
The worldwide interests and activities of the Moody Church make it a meeting place, a forwarding address, and a haven for many servants of the Lord. This was the case no less during the leadership of H. A. Ironside than it is today. In his first four months as pastor his study door opened to distinguished visitors from across the United States and abroad. I counted in HAI’s diary for September through December 1930 the names of seventy-eight visitors of recognized high spiritual stature. It was a new experience, too, for Harry Ironside to be in a position to pass out favors. The one suggestion that came to him most often astonished him greatly, as an excerpt from his diary reveals. It amazes me how many of the brethren write requesting an opportunity to preach at Moody Memorial.
On December seventh a committee from the church waited upon HAI and asked if he would rescind his condition to remain as pastor for one year’s trial only. Would he not stay indefinitely? He said he would weigh the matter and pray about it, but he did not give an immediate answer. Yet three days later he was so convinced that he was in the place of the Lord’s appointment that he told the committee he would consent to stay on as long as they wanted him, or until the Lord should indicate to him that it was time for a change.
The final day of 1930 brought happy reunion with Mrs. Ironside and Lillian, who arrived from Oakland to take up residence with HAI at the Plaza Hotel. With great joy the three went to the Watch Night Meeting, where Helen was introduced to the congregation. Two messages were delivered during the service. Ernest M. Wadsworth spoke first, on “Revival.” Then, as midnight approached, Dr. Ironside followed with a message entitled, “The Unknown Future.” Upon getting back to the hotel he wrote on the final page of his 1930 diary:
December 31, 1930
Just as the new year dawned four came to Christ in the Inquiry Room.