8. A Good Wife And The Favor Of The Lord

Part 3
Among The Brethren

    “Because that for His name’s sake they went forth,
    taking nothing of the Gentiles.”
    3 John 7

    “In labours... By the word of truth, by the power of God.”
    2 Corinthians 6:5-7{ p. 91}

    Within a week of the time when light concerning the headship of Christ entered his troubled soul and set him free from the despair he had endured for many months, Harry Ironside left the Salvation Army. The Army was the only human system he had ever known. Where was he to go? What should he do—return into secular work? The one business in which he could claim any experience was photography. Would Mr. Dando, the photographer whom he had left “to make a poor preacher,” take him back? Perhaps he ought to spend some time at the Watsons’ olive ranch in Monte Vista, where he was sure his mother and stepfather would welcome him. In his dilemma he sought out Charles Montgomery, who had helped him in his search for the truth about holiness teaching.

    Mr. Montgomery owned two small hotels in San Francisco. He urged Harry to remain in the city for a while so that he might make the acquaintance of and have fellowship with a group of believers there whom Montgomery spoke of as the Brethren.4 To make the way as easy as possible for the almost penniless young man, Montgomery provided living quarters for Harry in one of his hotels and offered him the freedom of his own splendid library. For a period of six months Ironside made his home there and reveled in writings that gave him fresh insight into the Bible.

    Within two weeks he was asked to address the meeting where Montgomery and his friends gathered. Already he had recognized that these people knew the Scriptures well, and he wondered what to talk about. Once again he turned to Isaiah 53, that glorious chapter that had been his text on earlier signal occasions. God honored the Word that evening and, after the service, some of the brethren who had been told of his recent experiences and his uncertainty about the future, urged him to remain and teach the Word.

    “But I know so little,” Ironside told them. They encouraged him, however, to preach what he did know and to pursue his study of the Bible, telling him, “God will give you more as you go on.”

    Sooner than Charles Montgomery and some of the other brethren anticipated, Ironside was in demand as a speaker, not alone in San Francisco and its environs but far down the coast. Although he was remembered in a number of places for his evangelistic campaigns when he was a Salvation Army officer, Harry became impressed that he should minister to the saved as well as to the unsaved. Christians, he felt, needed to be stirred up to live more seriously in accordance with the truths they professed to hold. They needed, in fact, to learn what the Bible teaches and to abide by its precepts. Despite his amazing familiarity with the Bible as a whole, other than for his intensive search for the truth about justification and sanctification, he had not inquired a great deal into church truth as it is revealed in the Epistles, nor into many other deeper doctrines of God’s Word. He was deluding neither himself nor others when he confessed to the brethren in San Francisco, “I know so little.”

    As a result he spent more and more time in poring over the Bible, comparing Scripture with Scripture. Occasionally, in his travels up and down California, Harry sought the communion and counsel of servants of God who were reported to know Christ intimately and to be well acquainted with the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings. To this end, on one of his visits to Los Angeles he walked out far beyond the city limits to gain the acquaintance of an aged servant of the Lord who lived in a tent among the olive trees. His name was Andrew Fraser. He had been a friend of Sophia several years earlier but now, because he had contracted a contagious and terminal illness, he saw few people indeed. When Harry reached Mr. Fraser’s tent and introduced himself, and after certain amenities were observed, the young man told his host that he was trying to preach the gospel and teach the Word.

    “Well,” said the aged servant of the Lord, “sit down for a while and let’s talk together about the Word of God.” He then opened his much-worn Bible and for some time, in fact, until his strength was about gone, earnestly presented truth after truth of the precious Word of God, turning from one passage to another. He did this in so simple and so sweet a manner that young Ironside entered into these truths in a way that he had never done before. Tears began running down the cheeks of the young preacher.

    “Where did you get these things?” he asked. “Can you tell me where I can find a book that will open such wonderful truths to me? Did you learn these things in seminary?”

    He waited for Mr. Fraser’s answer, which he never forgot, “My dear young man, I learned these things on my knees on the mud floor of a little sod cottage in the north of Ireland. There with my open Bible before me I used to kneel for hours at a time and ask the Spirit of God to reveal Christ to my soul and to open the Word to my heart. He taught me more on my knees on that mud floor than I ever could have learned in all the colleges or seminaries in the world.”

    Ironside was anxious to get back to San Francisco, for he had fallen in love. Some months earlier, Henry Varley, a well-known British evangelist, had returned from a campaign in Australia by way of the United States. He spent three months in San Francisco to conduct a series of evangelistic services in the Metropolitan Temple there. Harry was enthusiastic about the campaign and spent many days helping in whatever way he could. He also ran a book table for Mr. Varley.

    The pianist for most of these evening meetings was a former Salvation Army lassie, Captain Helen Schofield, daughter of a Presbyterian minister of Oakland. Harry was drawn to her immediately and in a matter of weeks considered asking her to marry him. He hesitated, however, for his financial situation was not at all what he thought it should be if he was to take a wife. Helen had been raised in a good home and he could not expect her to live by his faith. Here was his problem.

    A distinctive mark in the practice of the Plymouth Brethren is that no man serves among them for a stated salary. They hold with the teaching of the Scriptures that every believer in Christ is a witness to Him, and they minister God’s Word without prearranged remuneration but simply for Christ’s sake. No assembly or meeting has an ordained minister in the sense in which that term is popularly understood today, for the Brethren hold that a man may have a God-given ministry without human ordination, including preaching ministry. It is their view that inasmuch as gifts have been bestowed by the Holy Spirit upon His people, every member of Christ’s body is under obligation to fulfill whatever measure of the ministry has been committed to him. Those who teach or preach among the Brethren, therefore, receive no stipulated fee but are dependent completely upon the Lord for their support. The New Testament enjoins believers in Christ to lay aside on the first day of the week in accordance with the way the Lord prospers them. In such degree as an assembly of Christians is taught in the Word of God and abides by it, they will give to His work and share with those who are instruments of blessing to them. Harry understood this when he identified himself with the Brethren; so he lived and labored, trusting God to supply his needs from day to day. But did he have a right to ask Helen to do the same?

    He who tells the Lord that he is going to trust Him will oftentimes be tested by Him. Harry did not forget the faithfulness of God to his mother in years gone by, and he was prepared to see the Lord work on his behalf. It was not long before he had an opportunity to watch the Lord do both—by him and work on his behalf.

    Soon after his return to San Francisco from Los Angeles Harry began a series of meetings in one of the gospel halls of the city. It did not seem to occur to any of his listeners that he needed money, although he had so little that he came at length to his last five-cent piece. That day his sole food was a bag of peanuts. He had told the Lord of his need but, when evening came, still no one gave him anything. The next day he had no food at all, but again he preached three times. Another day passed in the same way and, when night fell, the young preacher wondered how he would have enough strength to get through the service. After his ninth message in three days without one bite of food, he overheard a maiden of uncertain age say: “I’m very much afraid that Mr. Ironside’s love affair is hurting his soul. I don’t think he preached with his usual power tonight.” It was all he could do to resist hinting, “Try me on a beefsteak, sister!” But he said nothing and went home to bed, where he stayed also at breakfast time.

    At ten o’clock in the morning a letter was delivered under his door. When he opened the envelope he found in it a ten-dollar bill, with no mention of the donor’s name. But Harry knew who gave it to him—it was the Lord—and he thanked Him for it! It had been a time of testing. He had not broken down and asked for help. He had really trusted the Lord wholly. Ironside’s spirit was encouraged and through the testing he grew in the knowledge of God’s loving care.

    The earnest young man told Helen of his recent experience. She agreed with him that profession of faith in God is not wholly genuine if he who professes it is not willing to trust God for everything.

    “Do you really feel that way?” Harry inquired.

    “Of course I do!” she replied.

    Then Harry, who had been trying for what seemed like a very long time to discover the Lord’s will for their lives, and aware also that “faint heart ne’er won fair lady,” proposed marriage to Helen. Her answer was immediate, affirmative, and enthusiastic. Harry’s lack of a nest egg was no obstacle to her who had been prepared, as a Salvationist, to suffer for Christ’s sake. In fact, to the one as well as to the other, the most carefree life was a life of trust in God.

    Ironside’s love affair was not hurting his soul, despite what the gossiping spinster had suggested earlier. He continued to press forward in response to his heavenly calling, teaching and preaching whenever and wherever doors were opened to him. When no regular scheduled meeting called him, he would walk the streets of San Francisco and start a sidewalk service of his own, and soon have a fair audience. One Sunday afternoon Mr. Ironside was walking along Market Street and noticed a sizable crowd gathered at the corner of Grant Avenue. He realized by the sound of the band and the singing that this was a Salvation Army meeting, and he joined the circle of people to enjoy the music and testimonies. The lassie captain knew him immediately, for it had hardly been more than a year since he left the Army. She asked him if he would like to give his testimony and he happily assented. While he was telling the gospel and of his own experience of God’s saving grace, he observed a rather well-dressed and intelligent-looking man in the audience, standing a little apart from others. This gentlemen took a card out of his pocket and wrote something on it and, as Ironside was concluding his message, walked up to the “ring” and handed it to him.

    Still speaking, Harry glanced down at the card and promptly recognized the name of a man who had been giving widely-advertised addresses on the West Coast for some months. He was an official representative of one of the early trade unions, the I.W.W.—the Industrial Workers of the World, facetiously called by its opponents, I Won’t Work. This particular man was famed for his ability to incite his hearers to class hatred and animosity toward the capitalistic system. He had passed him the card, Harry realized, for a purpose other than to give him his name, so Harry turned it over and read the penciled words, “Sir, I challenge you to debate with me the question ‘Agnosticism vs. Christianity’ in the Academy of Science Hall next Sunday afternoon at four o’clock. I will pay all expenses.”

    Harry read the card aloud to the crowd; he then answered his challenger, “I’m very much interested in this challenge. Frankly, I’ve already been announced as the speaker at another meeting next Lord’s day afternoon at three o’clock, but I think it will be possible to finish in time to reach the Academy of Science by four or, if necessary, to have another speaker take my place at the earlier meeting.

    “Therefore,” he continued, “I’ll be glad to agree to this debate on the following conditions, namely that in order to prove that this gentleman has something worth debating about, he will promise to bring with him to the hall next Sunday two people whose qualifications I shall give in a moment, as proof that agnosticism is of real value in changing human lives and building true character. First, he must promise to bring with him one man who was for years what we commonly call a ‘down-and-outer.’ I’m not particular as to the exact nature of the sins that wrecked his life and made him an outcast from society—whether he was a drunkard, or a criminal of some kind, or a victim of any sensual appetite. He must be, however, a man who for years was under the power of some evil habits from which he could not deliver himself, but who, on some occasion, attended one of this gentleman’s meetings and heard him speak, glorifying agnosticism and denouncing the Bible and Christianity, and whose heart and mind as he listened to such an address were so deeply stirred that he went away from that meeting saying, ‘Henceforth I, too, am an agnostic!’ or words to that effect, and as a result of embracing that particular philosophy he found that a new power had come into his life. The sins that he once loved, now he hates, and righteousness and goodness are henceforth the ideals of his life. He is now an entirely new man, a credit to himself and an asset to society—all because he is an agnostic.

    “Secondly,” Ironside went on to say, “I would like this gentleman who has challenged me to debate to bring with him to the hall next Sunday one woman— and I think he may have more difficulty in finding the woman than the man—who was once a poor, wretched, characterless outcast, the slave of degrading passions and the victim of man’s corrupt living. Perhaps,” said, Harry, nodding in the direction of San Francisco’s infamous Barbary Coast, which was only a stone’s throw from the spot where he was speaking, “perhaps one who had lived for years in some notorious resort down there on Pacific Street, or in some other hell-hole, utterly lost, ruined, and wretched. But this woman also entered one of this gentleman’s meetings and heard him loudly proclaiming his agnosticism and ridiculing the message of the Holy Scriptures. As she listened to him, hope was born in her heart and she said, ‘This is just what I need to deliver me from the slavery of sin!’ She followed this teaching, then, until she became an intelligent agnostic or infidel. As a result, her whole being revolted against the degradation of the life she had been living. She fled from the infamous place where she had been captive so long and today, rehabilitated, she has won her way back to an honored position in society and is living a clean, virtuous, happy life—all because she is an agnostic.

    “Now, sir,” Harry continued, “if you will promise to bring with you two such people as examples of what agnosticism will do, I will promise to meet you at the Academy of Science Hall at the hour appointed next Sunday, and I’ll bring with me at the very least one hundred men and women who for years lived in just such sinful degradation as I have tried to depict but who have been gloriously saved through believing the message of the gospel which you ridicule. I’ll have these men and women with me on the platform as witnesses to the miraculous saving power of Jesus Christ, and as present-day proof of the truth of the Bible.”

    Quickly turning to the Salvation Army captain, Ironside asked, “Captain, have you any who could go with me to such a meeting?”

    “We can give you forty, at least,” she exclaimed enthusiastically, “all from this one corps, and we’ll furnish a brass band to lead the procession.”

    “Fine!” Harry said, “Now, sir,” facing his challenger, “I shall have no difficulty in picking up at least sixty others from various missions, gospel halls, and evangelical churches. So if you promise faithfully to bring two such ‘exhibits’ as I have described, I will come marching in at the head of such a procession, with the band playing Onward Christian Soldiers, and I’ll be ready for the debate.”

    His opponent, who had at least some sense of humor, smiled rather sardonically and, with a wave of the hand as if to say, “Nothing doing!” walked away from the scene of the meeting—while the crowd applauded and cheered the street preacher who had met the challenge of the agnostic and put him to flight. They recognized immediately that no philosophy of negation, such as agnosticism, could ever make bad men and women good, and yet they knew from observation and experience that this is exactly what Christ has done for centuries and is doing every day. Mr. Ironside continued thus to witness to Christ in and out of season—and the months rolled by. Late in the year God answered his prayers, the Spirit seeming to seal the troth of Harry and his loved one when he received a legacy of three hundred dollars from the estate of his grandfather in Scotland. It was not a fortune but more than Harry had ever had at one time in his life. If the eager young man needed any “fleece,” this was it. Certainly it was the prayed-for nest egg.

    So at the turn of the year, on January 5, 1898, Henry Allan Ironside and Helen Georgia Schofield were married.

    4 Better known as Plymouth Brethren, these believers would prefer to be identified simply as brethren (with a small “b”). But because it is customary for people to attach a label to almost every group or movement, in order also to avoid confusion with a denomination using the name Brethren, and in later years for recognition with the United States Government in the matter of chaplaincies, etc., these believers of whom Mr. Montgomery spoke accept, a bit reluctantly, the title Plymouth Brethren. The movement began in the nineteenth century in Dublin, Ireland, followed shortly thereafter by spontaneous meetings in Plymouth, Bristol, and London, England, the most active being in Plymouth.

    The Church owes a great debt to the Brethren. Many of its early leaders, among them such devoted and gifted servants of Christ as J. G. Bellett, John Nelson Darby, William Kelly, C. H. Mackintosh, George Mueller, and Samuel Ridout, were the Holy Spirit’s instruments to open up in a new way truths in the unchanging Scriptures. Through the spoken and written ministry of these and other men, there came to the Church a reemphasis of such important doctrines as the headship of Christ, the oneness of the body of Christ, the unity of the Spirit, and the imminent return of the Lord.