17. Leaving One Another We Took Ship

In August 1931 the author of this book, who was at that time publisher and managing editor of Revelation, a Bible study magazine, was having luncheon in Philadelphia with two directors of its publishing firm. I asked these two gentlemen about their summer vacations. One of them mentioned a trip he had taken, adding that he would like to have attended a Bible conference but, since he had only three weeks off each year, there was not time to do that and see something of the world too.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to do both?” I asked. Then a thought came to me: Why not?

The following week I visited the offices of the Cunard Steamship Company in New York and talked things over with one of their executives. The result was that within a few weeks I chartered, on behalf of Revelation magazine, the 5.5. Transylvania, a 23,000-ton ship, for eight days in July 1932. Ports of call were to be Hamilton, Bermuda, and Halifax, Nova Scotia. The cost of the charter was $65,000, but I had no doubt we could persuade enough Christian people to take this Bible conference cruise to make up a full complement of passengers. Revelation was a new magazine which was

On the S.S. Transylvania—the Revelation Cruise, 1932


    Homer A. Hammontree

    Will H. Houghton

    Paul Beckwith

    Donald Grey Barnhouse

    E. Schuyler English

    Harry A. Ironside

    Reginald Wallis

    William Allan Dean


Built on the name of its editor, Donald Grey Barnhouse, who, as pastor of the historic Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, radio preacher, and itinerant Bible teacher, had a very large, enthusiastic following.

To make this unique Bible conference as appealing as possible I knew that we must have some outstanding speakers. Dr. Barnhouse was in France on vacation, and as he was essential for the success of the venture, I cabled him, inviting him to be one of our speakers. Of course he accepted. The next speaker we had to have, I felt, was H. A. Ironside. He, too, accepted the invitation. We filled out the panel with men such as Will H. Houghton, then pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church in New York; Captain Reginald Wallis, secretary of the Y.M.C.A. in Dublin, Ireland; and William Allan Dean, minister of the Aldan Union Church in suburban Philadelphia. Homer A. Hammontree, widely-beloved gospel singer, was engaged to lead the music with the help of his accompanist, Paul Beckwith.

So it was that HAI, together with Edmund and Freda Ironside and their little daughter Marion, left the North American continent for the first time on July 14, 1932 for a journey that was short in time and distance. Harry enjoyed it immensely, as excerpts from his diary revealed.

July 14, 1932

Warm in New York, but ideal sailing weather. Left the Cunard pier on the S.S. Transylvania at 12 noon and had a wonderful cruise all afternoon and evening. First meetings of the series on A deck at 8:30 and 10 P.M. Barnhouse, English, and Wallis spoke. Many friends on board.

July 15,1932

Good night voyage and fine A.M. meeting. Brumbaugh and Wallis speakers. Ed, Freda, and baby having a good time.

In the afternoon I gave an address on “Christ in Gala-tians.” At night Dr. Houghton and W. A. Dean spoke on different helpful themes. Have had a wonderful day.

July 19,1932

Reached Halifax early. About 800 people were waiting on the wharf to welcome us. Brother Turner met me and took our family party for a drive. At 3 P.M. we had a meeting on the wharf—1,000 present. Barnhouse spoke and I followed on Romans 1:16-17. Left at 4 P.M.

The meeting on the pier, to which HAI refers, was one of the great experiences of my almost half century of Christian commitment. About 1,000 men and women stood on a cement floor in a huge storage shed drinking in every word. They sang hymns together as Homer Hammontree led them from a podium that was, in reality, a 15-foot-high platform used in directing the loading of freight. Acoustics were abominable. However, both Barnhouse and Ironside had powerful speaking voices and were heard clearly by everyone despite the absence of a microphone and amplifiers. When the Transylvania sailed away there were tears in the eyes of many on the ship’s deck and on the shore.

July 20, 1932

The weather was perfect and the sea calm all day. The meetings were good. We closed at 10:30 P.M. with a Communion Service, some 500 participating.

Tomorrow our wonderful cruise comes to an end, much to our regret.

July 21, 1932

The glorious cruise ended when we docked in New York at 2 P.M. Ed and family left for Boston, and 1 visited Loizeaux Brothers ere leaving. Got my mail and attended to a few matters of importance.

Mrs. Theodore Keller of New Canaan, Connecticut, was among the passengers on the Revelation Cruise. Several years later at a Bible conference on the grounds of the Stony Brook School on Long Island, New York, where Dr. Ironside was one of the speakers, Mrs. Keller observed now tired HAI was and learned that, except for his voyage on the Transylvania, he had not had a vacation in nearly forty years. This bothered her. Two weeks later, when Harry was back in Chicago, he received a surprise.

August 26,1935

I received today an offer from Mrs. Keller to pay all expenses for Mamma and myself for a ten weeks’ tour to Palestine next fall or spring. Am looking to God for guidance.

After he and “Mamma” talked it over they decided that this was a provision from the Almighty for a needed rest for Harry and that, in addition, a visit to the Holy Land would be helpful in his ministry. Would it not be wonderful if they could take Lillian with them, they thought. She would lose a year of school, but the year would be profitably spent and there was no special need for her to graduate with her present class. The trip would enlarge her whole life. Consequently, as they began to plan the trip they began to save for Lillian’s fare. Furthermore, HAI did not know when he might have another opportunity to cross the Atlantic Ocean. So they made arrangements to return from abroad by way of England and Scotland, for Harry longed to visit the land of his forefathers. So that he could do this, Moody Church granted him a full three months’ leave of absence.

On February 4, 1936 the three Ironsides boarded the S.S. Exochorda, a freighter whose eventual destination was Beirut, Syria. There were not many people with whom Harry and his family were congenial, and there was considerable drinking among a few of the passengers. However, after a few days the Ironside party found some who were eager for Christian fellowship, among them several Baptist missionaries. The first Sunday Harry was asked to lead a deckside church service, which opened a way later for him to speak to a number of people, both passengers and crew. He reported that “most are without faith and care nothing for eternal things.” After the ship put in at Gibraltar for a few hours to unload freight, she went on and docked at Marseilles on Sunday. Harry wished he knew of some place of worship, but since he did not, he walked the streets of the city for several hours distributing French tracts.

At length the Exochorda landed at Beirut. The Ironsides disembarked and traveled by motor to Baalbek and Damascus before turning toward Jerusalem. In Damascus they walked along “the street which is called Straight” and saw the place where the Apostle Paul is reputed to have been let down over the city wall in a basket (see Acts 9:11,25).

On then to what HAI had been looking forward to for so long—Jerusalem. En route the party passed through Capernaum and viewed the ruins of a synagogue there which may well have been the one that a certain Roman centurion built for the Jews (Luke 7:5). Harry was reasonably sure that this was the very place; so he stood for a few moments on the rostrum where the Lord Jesus may have taught nineteen centuries earlier (Mark 1:21).

The three travelers’ first sight of Jerusalem was shortly after noon on February 28. They rested for a while and then the party went sightseeing. In the morning they walked with Hyman Jacobs, a Hebrew Christian who acted as their guide, through David Street to the Wailing Wall where, HAI writes, “we bowed our heads and prayed for the redemption of Israel. A great crowd was there reciting the penitential Psalms.” The afternoon was spent motoring to Jericho, the Jordan River, and the Dead Sea. The next day was Sunday. Let the diary speak.

March 1,1936

Lord’s day in Jerusalem! What thoughts crowd in upon us! We broke bread with an assembly of “brethren” at 10 A.M. At 2 we went out to see Calvary (Gordon’s) from the wall of Jerusalem near the Damascus Gate—then to the Garden Tomb.

At 3:30 I preached in the Baptist Chapel on “The Sinless One Made Sin.” 70 present.

At 7:30 I preached in the American Church—200 present, on “The Mission of the Holy Spirit,” John 16.

It has been a memorable day… Enjoying fellowship so much with many Christians here.

Three days later the Ironsides left Jerusalem20 After spending almost a week in Cairo they sailed for Naples and went on to Rome, where they had a marvelous experience seeing innumerable historic sights, including, of course, the ancient Coliseum and the Mamertine Prison, where St. Paul was held in chains before he was beheaded by Nero.

London was the next stop of special consequence to Harry. They reached the city on March 21.

March 21, 1936

At last another dream of my life has come true. We are in London, the great world-metropolis, and it does not seem greatly unlike New York or Chicago.

We left Paris about noon, going to Calais, thence across the Channel to Dover, and then by train to London. The Channel, of which we had often heard disquieting reports, was calm as an inland lake.

My cousins, Mabel and Ernest Neale, met us; also McAdams. In two cars they brought us and our luggage to the Kingsley Hotel. . . . They took us for a drive to see the great city by night. We enjoyed it all and praise God for His goodness.

During the next thirty days the Ironsides visited in England, Scotland, and Ireland: London, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Kilmarnock, Belfast, Bangor, and Dublin. In many ways it was not unlike the days in America, for HAI spoke thirty-one times to audiences ranging from around 200 to 1,200. In London they followed the program of most tourists, but Dr. Ironside also visited places and institutions of which he had heard and with which he had corresponded in years past—Pickering and Inglis; Marshall, Morgan, and Scott, publishers of The Life of Faith; and others.

One of the high points of the travelers’ tour of the British Isles was a visit to Aberdeen, the country where the Ironsides had their roots. The last Saxon king of England was Edmund Ironside. He was murdered by Canute but his two sons escaped and carried on the family name. A prominent personage at the beginning of World War II who, after his retirement, spent time researching the history of the Ironside family, was General Sir Edmund Ironside. Harry had some correspondence with Sir Edmund a few years after his visit to Aberdeen. One memorable day HAI looked upon his father’s old home.

April 6,1936

This was to me a most interesting day. We drove over to New Deer and Cairnbano—the district from which my forefathers came. Saw the house where my own father was born—the place at Cairns or Southfield where the family lived, etc.

Preached at night in the Assembly Hall before large audience. I took up “Perfect Love.” Good interest, and I hope some were blessed.

Soon thereafter the party of three returned to the United States, Harry feeling physically and mentally refreshed.

Three other trips to England followed in successive years. The Moody Bible Institute commemorated its centenary in 1937. Special meetings were held all across the United States and Canada, and for several months in England also. The late Will H. Houghton, then president of the Institute, arranged for an exchange of speakers between Britain and Scotland, bringing Bishop J. Taylor Smith and Evangelist Jock Troup to America and sending Dr. Ironside and Evangelist Mel Trotter to England. Harry was there for thirty-two days, speaking sixty-two times. Ten thousand people were present for the opening service in Royal Albert Hall, London, where Lord Aberdeen presided. Harry spoke on that occasion on Romans 1:16. Other meetings were held in London at Central Hall, Westminster, and the Aldersgate Y.M.C.A. In Edinburgh the two Americans preached in famed St. Giles Cathedral.

When he got back to Chicago a number of invitations came to HAI as a result of his ministry in the British Isles. So in 1938 a party of six sailed to Ireland—Harry, Helen, and Lillian Ironside, Stratton and Marjorie Shufelt, and Mrs. Eunice Hay, a member of Mood} Church. This was to be an evangelistic tour. It opened at Templemore Hall, Belfast, and moved over to Glasgow, where meetings were held in Tent Hall and the Play House. Audiences ranged from 300 to 4,500, except on inclement evenings. A number of men and women responded to the gospel of Christ night after night. Other campaigns were carried on in Kilmarnock and Aberdeen.

The tour ended with a ten-day series in Kingsway Hall, London, with about 2,000 persons in attendance. The party returned home glorifying God for evidences of salvation of souls through the preached Word, and by the gospel as it was presented in song by Shufelt, whose ministry was appreciated everywhere.

Ironside visited Britain again in 1939. He had been invited to give the Bible messages at English Keswick in July and planned to cross over alone just for the week’s ministry, but in April the Laidlaws arrived in Chicago from New Zealand with their two sons, John and Lincoln, and daughter Lillian. Harry had not seen his sister, Lillian, in eight years; in fact it was only the second time in almost twenty years that Bert and Lillian had been in America. Bert suggested that Harry ask for leave of absence from Moody Church so that he could go abroad with them in May for a motor trip throughout Great Britain before Harry needed to meet his appointment at Keswick. Harry did not need much persuasion, for he was quite worn out from the schedule he had been carrying. So the five Laidlaws and HAI sailed from New York on the Queen Mary on May 24. For the next fifty days Harry had virtually a complete rest, speaking only eighteen times as the group toured England, Wales, and Scotland.

Back home in Chicago once again, Ironside resumed lis church responsibilities and his self-chosen, demanding outside program. What may have been his :rowning work during the Moody Church years, that is, beyond the church ministry, was a campaign that he jndertook in Oakland, California, in the winter of 1944. With Stratton Shufelt as his musical director and soloist, HAI, assisted by his son, John,21 went “home” for an evangelistic effort of eighteen days. Thirty churches in Oakland united in sponsoring these meetings which were designed specially for defense workers and service personnel. As the campaign progressed the audiences in the Oakland Civic Auditorium grew larger night by night until the place was filled to capacity in the closing days.

Many people came to a saving knowledge of Christ. The effort took its toll of HAI, as his diary indicates: February 25,1944

. . . left me very weary mentally.

However, God, who delights to use weak things, came in at night. Some 2,100 present. I preached on 2 Corinthians 5:21. Many stood to confess Christ and about forty came forward to be dealt with. It rejoiced our hearts to see this break.

With this we conclude the review of Harry Ironside’s public ministry, which began in 1890 when he was a boy preacher and continued for sixty years, until his death in 1951. It was a distinguished testimony for Christ, “not ... in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance.”

20 What moved HAI most in Israel, I think, was his visit to the Garden Tomb. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, in the center of modern Jerusalem, is reputed to be the site of Christ’s burial and of His resurrection. It is shown to the vast majority of tourists in the Holy Land as one of the Biblical landmarks. The Garden Tomb, on the other hand, is not a popular tourist attraction. It is, by the way, privately owned by the Church of England. The garden is at the foot of Gordon’s Calvary, which is the most likely site of Christ’s crucifixion, known as the Place of the Skull. The tomb is a rock-hewn cave on the side of a hill, quite evidently a new burial place in Jesus’ time. Only one slab in the tomb is completed, which has a place at its head like a stone pillow. The opening of the tomb is low, so that a person of average height must stoop to enter. See Matthew 27:60; John 19:40-42; 20:3-8. One of my most treasured memories is of a visit to the Garden Tomb on Easter morning many years ago. The garden is enclosed now within walls and is a lovely restful spot. The tomb has a cleft high above the entryway and, as the sun rose on that Easter morning, its rays shone brightly on the pillow of stone.

21 The last previous mention of John Schofield Ironside was concerning his return to Oakland in 1931 from a round-the-world cruise on one of the Dollar Steamship Company’s “President” ships, on which he served as a purser. In 1927, his senior year at the University of California (Berkeley), John, who as a lad had been a bright Christian, slipped into a spiritual eclipse, experiencing many and varied doubts about the Scriptures and spiritual matters generally. In 1932, while he was with the Dollar Line, John married Miss Sally Gentry. Several years later he went into business for himself for a short period and then, in 1939, he was graciously restored to the Lord. John and Sally gave themselves completely to Christ and together entered the Moody Bible Institute, from which they were graduated in 1941. Subsequently John served as associate pastor of Moody Church until 1944, dean of men of the Moody Bible Institute until early 1947, manager of the Winona Lake Bible Conference in 1947-1948, and finally pastor of College Baptist Church, Manhattan, Kansas, until his death of a heart attack in January 1957 at the age of fifty-one. John Ironside’s widow, Sally Ironside, currently (1976) lives in Indianapolis, Indiana. Her daughter, Martha Bernice Ironside, lives in Dayton, Ohio, where she has a position.