Old And Full Of Years
“Well done, good and faithful servant:
thou hast been faithful over a few things,
I will make thee ruler over many things;
enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”
For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord;
and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God,
who commanded the light to shine out of darkness,
hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the
knowledge of the glory of God
in the face of Jesus Christ.
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that
the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.”
2 Corinthians 4:5-7
After Harry resigned from the pastorate he moved down to Winona Lake, Indiana, where he began living with the John Ironsides. This was to be his headquarters, although he was there only rarely; for relieved of Moody Church responsibilities he was now able to engage again in an itinerant ministry even though he was dreadfully handicapped because of the cataracts in his eyes. He could read only with greatest difficulty, this requiring that he hold printed matter close to his face. Had he not been saturated with Scripture and blessed with a fantastic memory he could not have pursued his distinctive expository preaching.
In January 1949 HAI fulfilled a long-standing engagement at the Central Presbyterian Church in St. Petersburg, Florida, where he taught the Bible for two weeks. He was lodged on the second floor of the church in an apartment known as “the prophet’s chamber.” It had a refrigerator and an electric stove, so that Harry could get his breakfasts there, but it was better to go out for other meals. Various people, including the pastor and his wife, Dr. and Mrs. Edward R. Barnard, entertained him sometimes, either in their homes or in one of the many hotels and restaurants in St. Petersburg. Two widowed sisters from Georgia—Mrs. William Harrison Hightower of Thomaston and Mrs. W. Roy Finch of Macon, had attended Central’s winter Bible conference for several years, and this particular season they made it a point to come down to St. Petersburg during the period that Harry Ironside was scheduled to speak. So it came about that they became Harry’s guides and chauffeurs, while they took him on pleasant drives and to attractive eating places.
Ann Hightower had met Harry a few years earlier, but the occasion was not much more than an introduction after a church service. During the St. Petersburg conference, however, she and Harry struck up a warm friendship. He was drawn to her first by her kindness, and in ensuing days by her charm and wit. To his great loss he was unable to see clearly her lovely face. Ann Hightower was attracted to Harry first by his mastery of the Scriptures and dynamic presentation of the Word of God, and then by his mind and his humility, warmth, and guilelessness—also, I suspect, because she felt he needed her. At any rate, after HAI returned to Chicago he happened to meet the man whom he had told a few months earlier about his readiness to be taken to Heaven. He confessed to his friend, “You know, I met a lovely lady while I was in Florida, and I find myself not quite as eager to go to Heaven right now as I was when I spoke to you last.”
In the weeks that followed Ironside had several appointments in the southeast and, whenever he did and she was able, Ann Hightower managed to be visiting somewhere in the area of his ministry. It was not very long before these two dear people were betrothed. The marriage was planned to take place sometime in the
autumn, a fact which of course set some tongues wagging. Cruel gossip. Harry was then seventy-two years old, almost blind, and rather helpless. Ann was about twelve years younger than he, loved him, and was eager and able to serve him in many ways. Why should they wait around for a fitting time? What time could be more appropriate than right then? She lived in a gracious southern home in Thomaston, Georgia. Her family was quite agreeable to the marriage,28 and HAI’s children approved it wholeheartedly.
On October 9, 1949 Henry Allan Ironside and Annie Turner Hightower were married by Dr. Graham Gilmer, pastor of a Presbyterian church in Lynchburg, Virginia, where HAI had just concluded a series of meetings.
The newly-married couple’s wedding trip was surely not one in the usual sense but certainly fitting, with the joyous tempo that their lives together were to have. From Lynchburg they went up to Hagerstown, Maryland, and the next day came to our summer cottage in Skytop, Pennsylvania, for an overnight visit. From there they went to Toronto, Ontario, where Ann took Harry’s dictation—a lesson for The Sunday School Times. This was the first secretarial chore of many tasks she would perform in the months that followed. From Toronto, where Ann met “dozens of Harry’s cousins,” the Ironsides continued their itinerant service for Christ in Washington, D.C.; Durham, North Carolina; Augusta, Georgia; and so on for months. In a number of church services, because HAI was unable to see to read the Bible when he began his message, Ann read the Scripture portion for him. She did it beautifully and captivated audiences with her well-modulated voice and soft Georgia accent.
Back in Thomaston for Christmas and the early part of the year, Harry began champing at the bit to return to the gospel trail, even though he found Ann’s southern home restful and its leisurely life different from anything he had ever known. Elie Loizeaux, of the publishing firm, wrote HAI, asking him if perhaps Mrs. Ironside would be willing to read the galley proofs of Harry’s book on Joshua.29 Harry’s reply throws light on what a godsend Ann was to him:
January 21, 1950
My dear Brother:
My “charming lady” says she will be delighted to read the galley proof on Joshua. “Reading proof is one of the fondest things she is of.” She is really an expert at it. I can’t tell you, Elie, what joy she has brought into my life and of what assistance she has been to me. You would hardly believe it but we have traveled by automobile over 9000 miles since we were married October 9 and she has borne up wonderfully under all the strain of driving and looking after a half-blind man, so that I could only thank God from the depths of my heart for giving me such a partner in the work.
H. A. Ironside
Ironside had been writing lessons for The Sunday School Times for about fifteen years. He enjoyed the work, finding it a blessing to his own soul as he compared Scripture with Scripture while drawing his thoughts together to prepare the weekly manuscripts. It was necessary that the lessons be written months before their publication in the Times and early in 1950 he came to the conclusion that he would have to relinquish this phase of his ministry. On June thirtieth, therefore, he wrote to the late Philip E. Howard, Jr., editor of the Times,30 stating that he was on that very day, just before leaving Thomaston with Mrs. Ironside for a speaking tour, mailing the lesson for the last Sunday of 1950. After expressing his regret that this was the termination of that particular task in the Lord’s work, he said:
For the last six months it has become increasingly difficult for me to do this (write the lessons] owing to my nearly blind condition. If it had not been for the help of my dear wife in reading to me and looking up the references and then writing out the lesson in longhand to my dictation, I do not know how I could have gotten through. This is what I mean when I say I lay down this work with a feeling of relief.
I want to thank you personally for your kindness and consideration throughout these years, and assure you that it has been a real joy to work with you in this way.
There began at this time a set of providentially-arranged circumstances that were to effect the completion of H. A. Ironside’s final book-length commentary. During World War II there was a young man in the United States Navy named Ray C. Stedman who, among his other wartime duties, was ordered to serve as a naval court recorder. Stedman read several of HAI’s expositions, which had been recommended to him by a friend and, when the war ended, Ray and his wife, Elaine, went to the Dallas Theological Seminary in preparation for the ministry. When they reached Dallas in the autumn of 1946, Stedman was overjoyed to learn that Dr. Ironside was one of the annual visiting lecturers at the seminary. After hearing Harry for two weeks there, the young man was so impressed that he devised a way to get to know this great Bible teacher better—Ray suggested to HAI that he be permitted to take his dictation whenever Ironside was in Dallas and help him in any other way that he could. He offered to do this for nothing. Anyone who knew HAI well would have known that he would never accept such an offer from a young student, and indeed he did not do so on this occasion. The two came to an agreement: Stedman would take his “pay” in Ironside books.
In 1950 Harry lectured at the seminary for two weeks on the book of Isaiah and Stedman took the talks down on a wire recording device. He did not have sufficient wire to record the whole series, so he had to wipe off the early chapters, and use that same wire for recording the later chapters, beginning at chapter 40.
When these Dallas lectures were finished, Dr. and Mrs. Ironside proposed to Ray that, upon his graduation from seminary in the spring, he should accompany HAI during the summer months as a combination chauffeur and secretary. During that period Elaine Stedman and the children could visit with her family at Great Falls, Montana, where Ray would join them in time to begin a ministry in Palo Alto, California, to which he had been called. Mrs. Ironside, even though it was her chief joy to be with her husband and serve him in every way possible, was too wearied physically to continue his demanding traveling schedule without respite. Ray could relieve her so that she might so end some time in Thomaston, and she could join them occasionally when it was convenient.
Ray accepted the proposition and everything went off beautifully. Dr. Ironside and Ray worked on HAI’s book on Isaiah. Stedman would read a portion of a chapter aloud and then read from commentaries by F. C. Jennings and W. E. Vine. Harry would remain silent for a few minutes while he arranged his thoughts, after which he would dictate his exposition of that section.
“I was always amazed,” Stedman wrote, “at the way he kept his comments from being simply a ‘rehash’ of Vine and Jennings, but always managed to bring out some interesting sidelight which the others had overlooked.”
By the time the chauffeur-secretary association was brought to a close, Harry had finished the first thirty-five chapters of the book.
For Ray Stedman this experience with Dr. Ironside was one he will never forget. HAI’s love of the Scriptures, his eagerness to preach the whole counsel of God, and the simplicity of his messages, which were addressed to the heart rather than to the intellect, had a tremendous impact on Ray’s life and ministry. Upon leaving Harry and Miss Annie (as Ray called Mrs. Ironside) in August at Binghamton, New York, Ray went to Montana for a short rest and then took his family to Palo Alto, where for a quarter century he has carried on a vital, unique, and ever-enlarging testimony for Christ at the Peninsula Bible Fellowship.
In September 1950 Dr. McKinney removed HAI’s cataracts. The operations, performed three days apart, took place in Memphis. Ann and her sister, Mary Finch, stayed at a hotel in the city to be near Harry, and John Ironside came down from Winona Lake. The surgery was successful and a week later Harry and Ann went back to Thomaston. For several weeks Harry used temporary lenses in his spectacles; then on October twenty-fifth he and Ann picked up the permanent lenses in Memphis. As Ann expressed it later, he “could see perfectly for six beautiful, happy days.”
Harry had been promising the Laidlaws for many years that someday he would visit New Zealand. He and Ann were to sail from Vancouver soon to fulfill that promise and, from New Zealand to proceed around the world for meetings planned in various places, concluding with the Keswick conferences in Ireland and Britain. En route from Memphis to Vancouver by train they had a stopover of several hours in Chicago. This happened to fall on a Sunday morning, so the Ironsides decided to go up to Moody Church and attend at least part of the morning service. Before it started they visited with a few friends and, when it was time to begin, Carl Armerding, a gifted and greatly-beloved Bible expositor who was to preach there that day, invited HAI to share the platform with him and to read the Bible at the appropriate time. Ironside read with facility; in fact, Ann told me later, “He was so delighted to be able to see that he was showing off a little.”
It was then time for the Ironsides to leave for their train connection. Dr. Armerding came down from the pulpit with HAI and escorted both of them to the door. Returning to the pulpit he passed Mrs. Armerding, who was seated in the front row of the auditorium, and leaning down whispered to her, “We’ll never see Harry again on this earth.”31
Indeed HAI was “delighted to be able to see.” Within the next few days he sent postcards to several of his friends, his comments written in such miniscule letters that, when I read mine, I was reminded of the people who say they can write the so-called Lord’s Prayer on the head of a pin.
A series of meetings was scheduled in Vancouver before the Ironsides should sail for New Zealand. Here at their hotel what seemed a tragedy occurred. Harry slipped in the bathtub and, in falling, struck his right eye on a faucet. The physician in Vancouver did not want Harry to sail and Ann also thought they should postpone the trip. But HAI insisted he was going and at length the doctor gave him permission to do so provided he would remain quietly in his bunk for a stated number of days. During the voyage Harry stayed quite still until they were about to dock at Honolulu, where he left the ship for a drive in the countryside and enjoyed a visit on shipboard with several friends. When they put to sea again HAI taught the Bible on several occasions in the ship’s lounge.
New Zealand at last! The Ironsides stayed with the Laidlaws in their beautiful home in Auckland, overlooking the harbor. It was a happy visit. Lillian Laidlaw had longed for years that her brother might come, and a quarter century after the visit still cherishes the short time they had together there. Her devotion to Harry is expressed in a letter written to Marie Loizeaux32 in February 1975:
To me Harry was more than a brother, for my mother went to Heaven when I was five and my father when I was sixteen, and while I had dear, kind guardians my brother was very “special” as a wonderful example of Christlikeness and all that I admired most. His thoughtfulness to me as a child growing up was wonderful. On shipboard and also after they arrived in new Zealand Harry, with Ann as his secretary, completed chapters 36—39 of his commentary on Isaiah. But how was the book to be finished? You will recall that Stedman, when he sat under Ironside while HAI taught the book of Isaiah at Dallas Theological Seminary, did not have sufficient wire to record the whole book, and therefore had to wipe off the early lectures, beginning his recording with chapter 40, and finishing with the last of Isaiah’s prophecy, chapter 66. This wire was transferred to discs which, after Harry’s death, were sent to Loizeaux Brothers to complete the commentary. It was not wholly incidental that at the very next chapter after HAI ceased his writing of the commentary, Ray Stedman’s recordings were ready for use. This was the hand of God.
During the month between the Ironsides’ arrival and Christmas Harry spoke several times, in one instance to an audience of about 3,000 in Auckland’s Town Hall. After Christmas the Laidlaws and the Ironsides spent a week in Taupo, where the Laidlaws owned a lakeside cottage. There Harry completed his very last expository writing, a commentary on Revelation 6:1-6 for Our Hope magazine. It was mailed to me on January 9, 1951. Then on to Rotorua, where HAI was to speak on Sunday, January fourteenth.
In the morning, when the Ironsides were about to leave the hotel for the meeting hall, Harry told Ann that he was not well; it was probably, he thought, a touch of indigestion such as he had supposed he had had while in Taupo—at least a doctor there had diagnosed it as such. Actually, it was a heart attack. Nevertheless, Harry took part in the meeting. His Scripture was Psalm 118:19-29, beginning with the sentence, “Open to me the gates of righteousness: I will go into them, and I will praise the LORD.” His voice did not sound like his own. After the service Bert Laidlaw insisted that Harry consult a physician, who told him he must go immediately to the hospital. “No,” Harry said, “I’m scheduled to speak this evening.” However, he was taken to the hospital at 5 P.M.
Following the evening service, where Bert Laidlaw substituted for Harry, Ann and the Laidlaws went to see Harry at the hospital. When they entered his room, Ann asked him, “Darling, shall we read our usual chapter together?”
“I have just read seven chapters,” was his answer.
The three visitors stayed only a short time and then left, with assurances that they would see him in the morning. At 3:30 A.M. they received a telephone call notifying them that Harry Ironside had gone Home. The date, January 15,1951.
Ann thought that Harry’s funeral service should be held at Moody Church. There were certain, complications, however, and after a telephone conversation with John Ironside in the States, it was agreed that it would be best to lay HAI’s body to rest in New Zealand, in Purewa Cemetery. Bert Laidlaw conducted the funeral service at Howe Street Chapel in Auckland.
Years ago I suggested as an epitaph for HAI, should he be taken before the Lord comes, Robert Wild’s Epitaph “for a godly man’s tomb,” written three centuries ago:
here lies a piece of christ; a star in dust;
a vein of gold; a china dish that
must be used in heaven
where god shall feast the just.
Instead, a modest bronze marker at Purewa reads:
14th october, 1876
15th january, 1951
forever with the lord
28 Mrs. Hightower had three living children, all with families of their own: William Harrison Hightower, Jr. and George Harrison Hightower of Thomaston, and Martha (Mrs. Harry J.) Davis, who was at that time living in Germany but currently (1976) in Washington, D.C.
29 Composed of lectures delivered some time before this and edited for the purpose of publishing them in a single volume. For a complete list of titles by H. A. Ironside see Appendix A .
30 Dr. Howard went to be with the Lord on Christmas day, 1963, after a long illness following surgery for a brain tumor.
31 Lillian Ironside Koppin, HArs daughter, used almost the same words to herself when, in Atlanta in the early summer the Ironsides put her on a plane for Indianapolis: “I’ll never see Poppa again in this life.”
32 Miss Marie D. Loizeaux, editor at Loizeaux Brothers, Inc.