Notes and Quotes from the Margins
Neptune, New Jersey
A Coveted Treasure
In his biography of the late Dr. H. A. Ironside, Dr. E. Schuyler English mentions that Richard Bentley’s description of Bishop Pearson can well be applied to Dr. Ironside: “The very dust of whose writings is gold.”
It was my good fortune to come into possession of the Bible Dr. Ironside used for many years. Going over the voluminous notes it contains, one realizes that these comments and themes are indeed the very “dust of gold.”
Without doubt the personal Bible of Dr. H. A. Ironside is a treasure. The flyleaf of the good-sized copy of the Authorized Version bears the record “Presented by Saints at Boston (Arlington Heights) Mass., Oct. 14, 1925.” (This was Dr. Ironside’s forty-ninth birthday.)
It is a day well remembered when this Bible, the most cherished possession of my library, became mine. The famous expositor was coming to the close of an eighteen-and-one-half-year ministry as Pastor of the Moody Memorial Church (which, by the way, is the record for a pastoral stay at this renowned church). Dr. Ironside had read thousands of books in his lifetime, and even though he had supplied schools and struggling preachers with hundreds of books, there were still some four thousand volumes to be taken from the shelves of his study and packed for shipment to Winona Lake, etc. It was my personal delight, as his assistant pastor, to spend several days helping him in this task.
One day, upon removing books from one of the lesser used compartments, my hands produced a fine old dust-covered Bible which was literally in pieces from extensive use. The cover bore the gold imprint “H. A. Ironside, Oakland, Calif.” Immediately I asked the Pastor about the inscription.
“Yes,” he replied, “that is the Bible I was preaching from when I received the call to be Pastor of the Moody Church. And I have used it for a good part of that ministry too.”
Considering the fact that Dr. Ironside had been like a father to me, and was my hero as an expositor, I dared to mention that I should treasure such a possession for my very own.
“What would you do with it?” he asked. My answer was that I would treasure it as a memento of our association in the Word as father and son. Thus he gave it to me. Needless to say, I have cherished this keepsake, and have had the bookbinders restore the binding. It is now in safe condition to handle for study. My desire concerning this book is that I might share with others some of the treasure found therein.
The famous English poet, Matthew Arnold, declared, “Poetry is simply the most beautiful, impressive and widely effective mode of saying things, and hence its importance.”
Many of us have experienced near nervous exhaustion, as some dear brother attempted the use of poetry from the pulpit. But ah, when H.A.I. would pause during a Bible exposition and quote a few lines which sweetly but surely cut to the heart, it was almost as if the Master Himself were speaking.
H.A.I, had such a love for message in meter that he wrote many hymns of praise himself. Who, in evangelical circles, has not heard the song “Overshadowed”? Let us look at one stanza and the chorus:
How desolate my life would be,
How dark and drear my nights and days,
If Jesus’ face I did not see
To brighten all earth’s weary ways.
Chorus: I’m overshadowed by His mighty love,
Love eternal, changeless pure,
Overshadowed by His mighty love,
Rest is mine, serene, secure;
He died to ransom me from sin,
He lives to keep me day by day,
I’m overshadowed by His mighty love,
Love that brightens all my way.
H.A.I.’s Bible contains many poems, both penned and pasted in the flyleaves and margins. Reading a few of them will not begin to compare with hearing them quoted from his own lips, which are now silent awaiting “the blessed hope”—yet even in printed form his choice speaks the measure of the man himself!
My former association with Dr. Ironside was a most blessed experience. The call to be assistant pastor of the Moody Memorial Church was accepted in June 1947, which began for me a “Timothy” experience, the marks of which can never be erased from my life. For instance, sitting behind him as he preached verse by verse was like a seminary training in itself. Traveling with him to speaking engagements was always refreshing. My mind was alert trying to think up some theological question that might stump the “Old Apostle”; but his quick reply in Scripture quoting would leave me breathless. What a privilege to sit at the feet of such a Gamaliel! Many were the meals we ate together—that is, we started together but never finished together. He would be through a complete meal before I had started the second course, and would tell me at least three good stories before my dessert was finished.
What a giant of intellect and spirituality Dr. Ironside was! He would be found in his study most any morning at seven-thirty. His day included study of the Word; writing letters (in long hand) to missionaries, penning articles for publication, manuscripts for books, radio engagements, preaching and teaching engagements, personal interviews, and a short nap after the noon meal. The more I think about his capacity the more impossible his tasks seem to me. Yet I witnessed these things with my own eyes.
Many a professor of homiletics has been plagued with the perennial question that comes from new aspiring preachers, “What about H. A. Ironside, he doesn’t use this system?” It is quite true that H.A.I, seemed to have homiletical rules that differed from those of Spurgeon and Talmadge; but did he or did he not get results? One day while driving my beloved Pastor to a preaching engagement, I broached the subject of homiletics. In our conversation I mentioned the names of professors who were looked upon as top bracket teachers in the field of homiletics, and waited for comment if forthcoming. It came. With a twinkle in his eye he said, “You know, it’s a strange thing, but many of these men who can tell you how, were never able to do the job themselves.”
Upon studying H.A.I.’s Bible one is brought face to face with the fact that he had a very concise way of explaining truth, as for example the few samples of his outlines and themes included in “Suggestive Themes from H.A.I.’s Bible.”
A few moments of browsing through his Bible will quickly reveal H.A.I.’s devotional love for the Book, also his method of expounding it. He was probably the most famous exponent of verse-by-verse exposition of our generation. And literally thousands of sheep crowded the great Moody Church week after week for over eighteen years, because better pasture could not be found anywhere else.
H.A.I.’s manner of marking the Bible is a fascinating study in itself. In fact, all flyleaves are actually covered with sayings, poems, diagrams, illustrations, epitaphs, and even Chinese characters, which he studied for recreation. Here and there, he has noted some of the great themes of the Bible, which signified the power and effectiveness of his preaching. But perhaps the richest of the treasure is the reading of his choice comments scattered over some fifteen hundred pages of Scripture, as written by him in the margins.
This volume contains selections from the many marginal notes found in each of the Books of the great expositor’s old Bible. If the reader will fit these notes with chapter and verse, he will find the map leading to buried treasure.
Herbert J. Pugmire, D.D., F.R.G.S.
Galilean Baptist Church