12. About The Father's Business

By the year 1915 Lillian Watson, Harry’s half-sister, had grown to young womanhood. Ironside was genuinely fond of her and frequently, when he was called upon to cross by ferry to San Francisco, where Lillian lived, he would try to see her. Sometimes they would have luncheon together. Then too, Lillian occasionally visited the Ironsides in Oakland for an afternoon, or an overnight stay when Harry and Helen were away and wanted someone to stay with the two boys.

In the spring Harry began to suspect that Lillian was becoming romantically attached. He writes in his diary of a Mr. Laidlaw who came over to Oakland with her one evening. Again, “Lillian and Mr. Laidlaw had tea with Helen today.”

Robert A Laidlaw was known widely in New Zealand as a rising young businessman of Auckland. He was equally well known in the United States and Britain as an able expositor of the Scriptures. In fellowship with the Plymouth Brethren, Bert Laidlaw was the author of a gospel tract, The Reason Why, which in time reached a distribution total of more than ten million copies in the English-speaking world.

Harry was at home during the latter part of April. A page in his diary reads: April 28, 1915

Well, it looks as though I am to lose my only sister. Bert
Laidlaw came over today to “ask” me for Lillian, and if they
wed he will take her to New Zealand in three months! The
Lord guide.

It is not clear when the Lord revealed His mind to Harry. No further mention is made in his journal until three months later. Perhaps HAI was slow to understand God’s will or else reluctant to reach a decision in so important a matter, especially in view of the fact that, if the marriage should take place, Lillian would be living on the other side of the world. In July things moved rapidly.

July 19, 1915 Robert and Lillian were with us all night and left at noon for San Francisco. I suppose I will only see them once again, and that to marry them next Monday night—then never perhaps until “the day breaks and the shadows flee away” at “the coming of the Lord Jesus and our gathering together unto Him.”

One feels a bit queer about it—but I hope Lillian will be very happy.

July 26, 1915 I married Lillian and Robert Laidlaw, with James Arthur as best man, and Carol Gibsen and Clarabel West as bridesmaids. A happy reception downstairs afterwards.

Only a few days later the Laidlaws sailed for New Zealand. Their visits to the United States were rare.

During the next fourteen years, from 1916 to 1929, Ironside accomplished more than five men of lesser energy and zeal could have done in their entire lives. As nearly as I can estimate he preached the gospel and expounded the Scriptures about 6,500 times to an aggregate audience of 1,125,000 people. It was necessary for him to travel thousands of miles to do this, to take no vacations, and to keep going in weariness ans sometimes sickness, for this was before radio came into use as a means of spreading the Word of God.

All this time the Lord kept His servant from disaster even in perilous experiences. Several such occasions come to mind: one, when a train on which HAI was traveling was brought to a halt only a few hundred yards from a washed-out bridge; another, when he was spared in a hotel fire; and still another when he was struck down, but not injured, by a speeding motorcycle. He must have been exposed to still other hazards, some of which only God is aware.

During these years Ironside’s writing ministry continued to grow. Four Bible expositions were written in this period, plus a score of shorter works. In addition, Harry was speaking two or three times a day and directing the Western Book and Tract Company by mail.

Whereas many of his engagements in the early years had been at denominational and independent churches, by far the major portion of HAI’s speaking appointments were in Brethren assemblies. He had always felt evangelism to be God’s highest calling, yet little by little his messages became almost exclusively expository, with a gospel note added whenever the Holy Spirit led him in this way.

The enlarged platform witness may in part be traced to an invitation that came to him from Dr. George McPherson, who directed the Old Tent Evangel in New York City. In 1918 Ironside began what became a two-week summer ministry in McPherson’s tent. This was carried on annually for eight years. As a result of these meetings he came into contact with many well-known Christian workers who, in turn, invited or recommended him to other places of witness. In the same year, too, Brethren assemblies united in engaging the St. James M. E. Church in Elizabeth, New Jersey, for ten days of meetings, at which HAI was the speaker. Inasmuch as this conference was supported by all the Brethren of that particular fellowship in the state and vicinity, large crowds gathered and there were evidences that quite a number of men and women were brought to the knowledge of Christ as their personal Saviour in this campaign. Many believers were built up in the Christian faith.

Like a mailman who goes for a long walk on his day off, whenever Harry had a free evening he could be found attending a service wherever he might be, whether at home or on the road. He had an intense love for the Word of God and was almost always stimulated when he heard other speakers expound it. His diaries contain many brief entries such as these: “Heard Billy Sunday tonight”; “Listened to William Jennings Bryan”; “Heard A. B. Simpson”; “A. C. Gaebelein spoke,” etc. Other distinguished ministers are named in similar ways, e.g., James M. Gray, P. W. Philpott, Lewis Sperry Chafer, A. H. Stewart. Among several hundred such entries in the diary I found only four indications that Harry was not instructed or blessed by a message. Twice he wrote: “Was disappointed”; once, “. . . twaddle by a Baptist preacher from Chicago”; and the fourth time, “Mr.−−−− of the Y.M.C.A. spoke but it was poor stuff. We need to pray for him.” Usually remarks of this kind were made: “A splendid message”; “Philpott was exceptionally good”; “It was a great address.”

Whereas HAI had the capacity for deep friendship, he was denied the joy of many of them because he was rarely in one place more than a few days, days filled with pursuance of the Father’s business. However, in 1914 a rare intimacy began at a Bible conference at Mt. Hermon, California, where Harry shared a week’s ministry with James A. Sutherland, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church of San Jose. The warm friendship between these two men of God continued through many years. In fact, Ironside told me that he traced his call to the Moody Memorial Church13 of Chicago in 1930 to the interposition of Jim Sutherland.

By 1924 Sutherland had become a member of the Extension Staff of the Moody Bible Institute.14 He persuaded Harry to accept meetings under the Institute’s direction. As a consequence Ironside spent part of his winters in Florida, teaching the Scriptures as a Moody Bible Institute speaker, and summers at one Bible conference after another under the same aegis. During the spring and the autumn HAI engaged himself elsewhere, as a result of direct invitations from Brethren assemblies as well as from local churches throughout the United States and Canada. He was now speaking about 500 times annually.

For several years, beginning in 1924, Ironside lectured for two months to the students of Dallas Theological Seminary (then known as Evangelical Theological College) in Dallas, Texas. Lewis Sperry Chafer, president of the seminary, was anxious to have him join the faculty as a full-time member. Harry was to be there seven months a year, with allowance for reasonable absences for outside engagements provided classroom work could be rescheduled for such times. He would still be free for five months a year for itinerant ministry on his own.

At first Dr. Chafer’s offer appealed to Harry—he would be instructing dedicated young men; he and Helen could have a home in Dallas, which would permit them to enjoy married life as it was meant to be; there would be time for study and writing; and his ministry across the land would not be entirely curtailed. But after some months of prayer, he wrote to Chafer that he thought the proposed arrangement would be a mistake. Helen wanted to remain in Oakland to be with John until he should obtain his academic and doctoral degrees from the University of California (Berkeley), where he was at that time a junior. Harry wondered if, as he wrote, “I could be satisfied to be tied down after having so wide and varied an itinerant ministry for so many years.” Furthermore, there was the matter of the Western Book and Tract Company. The bookstore was doing fairly well by this time, but Ironside rightly felt a responsibility to a number of friends who had invested somewhere around $35,000 in the business. He thought he could do much more on behalf of the company if he continued traveling as he had been doing. So he declined the offer and the matter was settled.

The Ironside family experienced some changes during these years. The boys were no longer children and there was now a daughter, Lillian. Edmund had been just old enough to enter the army in World War I, during which he was married to Miss Mabel Guthrie. In 1920 a daughter, Lillian, was born from this union. But young Mrs. Ironside was quite ill and shortly after the baby’s birth Harry and Helen took the little girl into their home. In time, with the full consent of both Edmund and Mabel, she was legally adopted by her grandparents as their daughter. Mabel died of tuberculosis not long afterwards.

Edmund had wandered away from the Lord and was engaged in business in Florida. There he married again in 1926, his second wife being Miss Freda Banford of Montreal. In the great hurricane of 1928 they lost everything they had in the world but, through the experience, gained everything that is of worth—both for time and for eternity. Edmund was wonderfully restored to the Lord and before long set out for Dallas, where he took some special courses at Dallas Theological Seminary. God gave the Edmund Ironsides two lovely daughters—Marion and Enid, both born there in Dallas.15

Edmund’s heart was with the black people, and within a year he founded and became the superintendent of Southern Bible Institute, a Bible school with a student body composed of blacks, where he remained until his death in 1941.

Meanwhile John, who had been a bright Christian, went into a spiritual eclipse in his senior year at the University of California. He graduated with an A.B. degree in 1927 and did not pursue his studies toward a doctorate. Rather, in great perplexity he delved into a variety of spurious cults and philosophies. His doubts as to the reality of spiritual things caused his father and mother much heaviness of heart.

In December 1929 Ironside held a series of services in the Moody Church. Then, after nearly eleven months’ absence from home, he arrived in Oakland on December twenty-second. There he found another invitation from Dr. Chafer—not this time to become a permanent full-time faculty member but to become a member of the Board of Regents, and on December twenty-seventh he wired his acceptance. This was the first of many directorships he held.16

The seven-year period ended on a happy note, for the diary of December 31, 1929 reads:

Had watchnight service 8-12 midnight in the Gospel Auditorium here in Oakland, brethren George W. Hunter, T. Carroll, and Elliott McAllister participating.

13 The Moody Church is the complete name of the corporation. The title. The Moody Memorial Church, is a name given to the building as a tribute to D. L. Moody.

14 The Moody Bible Institute and The Moody Church are in close fellowship. They are not, however, organically affiliated.

15 Edmund’s widow, Freda Ironside, currently (1976) lives in Woodstock, New Brunswick, Canada, with her younger daughter, Enid, and Enid’s husband, Pastor James Webber. Marion, Freda’s older daughter, is the wife of Allen Crawford, pastor of Faith Community Church, Roslyn, Pennsylvania. The last couple HAI ever married was Allen Crawford and Marion Ironside in Wheaton, Illinois, on September 2,1950.

16 For a complete list of organizations with which H. A. Ironside was affiliated, see Appendix B.