Brethren Archive

More Precious Than Gold.

by E. Schuyler English

A portion of a chapter from: “H. A. Ironside, Ordained of the Lord,”

The late John Buchan (Lord Tweedsmuir), while Governor General of Canada, said, in discussing Christian experience: “A Christian is one who has no visible means of support.”  But the Christian has what the world cannot see, the invisible and almighty God, Who has promised to supply all our needs, according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.  What greater benefactor!
The newly married young couple, Harry and Helen Ironside, were to be called upon again and again to exercise faith in God for the daily needs.  If Ironside was to preach to others of the Lord’s loving care for His own, he must experience it for himself.  For even in this life one cannot be called worthy to rule in many things who has not been faithful in a few things. . . .
On one occasion, when they had not eaten for two days, Harry, having prayed, went out into the streets and walked them, hoping that God would cause someone to cross his path who would, perhaps, pass along a thank-offering for help received through his ministry.  He ran across a man who was giving out to passers-by, sample packages of breakfast food, a now popular brand which was being introduced at that time.  The drummer was quite pleased to find a potential customer so interested in his product as to accept several boxes of the cereal, not knowing that his samples were to sustain a man and his wife for a few days.
Again, Harry sold some old clothes for fourteen cents, with which he was able to purchase two mutton chops at five cents each, and four potatoes, and these meagre supplies kept the Ironsides for another day.
There was one occasion, and only one, when the young preacher, despondent because he and his loved ones had been without food for two days, seriously considered giving up his call to full-time ministry and seeking temporal employment.  But then Helen prayed that his faith would not fail him in this trial and that he would not turn aside from what they both had believed to be God’s purpose for his life.  That very afternoon, Harry met a friend on the street who handed him a five dollar gold piece.  The Lord knew that this was the exact hour of His servants need, and met it through his friend. . . .
These were the first of many such testings and experiences in which the Ironsides learned by repetition in their own pilgrimage what the Word declares: “Offer unto God thanksgiving; pay thy vows unto the Most High, and call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me” (Psa. 50: 14, 15).  They sought to be faithful in praise and thanksgiving, and in paying their vows to the Lord.  In times of trial, they called upon Him, to find Him ever faithful to hear and answer and for it, they glorified His Holy Name. . . .
Like the sunshine that follows the rain (after Harry’s mother’s death), there came into the Ironside home a great blessing and cause for happiness.  On February 10, 1899, in the city of Los Angeles, the first child was born to Harry and Helen—a son, Edmund Henry.  The Ironsides now moved to Oakland, and Harry continued with his ministry as doors of utterance opened, speaking somewhere nearly every night, and often two or three times a day.  He was beginning to be in greater demand among believers who were helped by his expository gift, and on such occasions that he had no appointments, he would go, as had been his custom ever since he had been saved, to some crowded intersection in the city and begin to preach the Gospel to passers-by.  He had never lost the yearning for the souls of lost men and women which had been born within him in his association with General [William] Booth. 
When Edmund was about five months old, the Ironsides packed their bags and took him with them to East Bakersfield {known in those days as Kern City), California.  It was a venture of faith.  Friends who had attended meetings where Ironside had spoken in Long Beach, had been helped by his messages from the Word and asked him to come to Kern City when he had opportunity.  Promptly upon the arrival of the Ironsides, the services began and continued for about two months during the summer, during which Mr. and Mrs. Ironside had the joy of seeing quite a number of souls profess salvation in response to the Gospel.
When the time came to close the meetings, the Ironsides went to the railroad station preparatory to going home.  Yet Mr. Ironside was distinctly impressed that he should not go to Oakland but should stop off at Fresno in route.  He was puzzled.  The Holy Spirit speaks to us through the Word, and impressions can be very dangerous.  He thought to disregard the inward feeling that he had, but it was of such a definite and unusual character that, after pacing the station platform in prayer, he concluded to buy Mrs. Ironside’s ticket through to Oakland, but to purchase his own only as far as Fresno.  He told his wife that they should pray more on the journey and that if they were not very clear as to his “call” to Fresno when they reached that city, he would step off the train and buy another ticket to Oakland.
However, when the train pulled in to Fresno, there was no change in his mind, but rather an even stronger impression that he should go there.  So, handing his wife all the money he had in his possession, saving one dollar, he bade Helen and the little one good-by, and stepped off the train in faith.
In his pocket Mr. Ironside had the address of a gentleman who had written, perhaps a year earlier, telling him of encouragement that he had had through some literature Harry had mailed out, and asking Harry to come to Fresno if circumstances should ever permit, with a cordial invitation to stay at his home there and the assurance that he would endeavor to open a place of witness for the young preacher.  Leaving his bag at the station, therefore, with the thought that it must be this invitation which impelled him to stop off in Fresno; Ironside inquired the way to his intended host’s home and went there.  What was his dismay to find the house closed and to learn from neighbors that the whole family would be away for several weeks!  It seemed like a clear rebuff, an indication that he should not have followed “impressions” after all.
But there he was in Fresno, and without sufficient money to get home.  He went back to the station to recover his suitcase, and then sought inexpensive lodging.  He found a room at twenty-five cents per night.  It was now evening, and in his room he bowed his knees, asking God to show him if he had erred and to reveal the next step to him.  Perhaps He would give him some indication where he might minister in the city.
While he was still praying, he heard singing in the street, so he went out.  A Salvation Army meeting was in progress and Harry listened for a short time, but when the collection was being taken, feeling that his circumstances hardly permitted his having a share in it, he departed.
At the very next corner, he came across another street-meeting, this one under the direction of the Peniel Mission of Los Angeles.  The testimonies and Word given had a good sound to them, and so he decided to go to their Hall, where a service was to be held.  When he arrived, the place was quite full, and Ironside slipped quietly into a seat in the rear and near the door.  Glancing at the platform, he was conscious of the fact that two ladies who were standing there, were staring at him and whispering about him.  That he was noticed immediately upon his entrance was not surprising, in view of the fact that he wore a red beard, which he had grown shortly after leaving the Salvation Army, but he felt rather embarrassed.  In a moment, one of them came down the aisle and directly to him and asked: “Are you the one who is to preach here tonight?”
“I don’t know,” Harry answered.
“Aren’t you a preacher of the Gospel?” she inquired.
“And haven’t you a message for us tonight?”
“I’m not sure,” Harry replied.  “Why do you ask?”
“This other lady and I, who have charge of the meeting,” his interrogator answered, “were praying today about this evening, and it seemed to both of us as though a voice spoke saying: ‘I shall send My own messenger tonight.  You will know him when you see him.’  “And so,” she continued, “we were watching everyone who entered the door, and when you came in, we felt sure that you were God’s messenger.”
Fitting in as it did with his own experience, Mr. Ironside, who as a rule did not give credence to such a “voice,” accepted it as an opening of God, and told the lady how he happened to be in Fresno.  “Then you must be the Lord’s messenger,” was her answer.  “Please come to the platform.”
After the service, not a few expressed gratitude for the message, and the two ladies invited the young man to remain for two weeks, holding meetings every night, as well as on the Lord’s Day, in the afternoon and evening.
This first meeting was on a Friday night.  No one asked Mr. Ironside whether he had accommodations, and since he was looking to God to supply his needs, he dared not mention them to others unless they at least alluded to them.  So, he stayed that night and the next at his lodging house, eating very sparingly indeed.  Late Saturday afternoon, therefore, absolutely penniless and having had only five cents worth of food all day, he took his suitcase from the room he had been using, and asked permission of a druggist to leave his baggage in his store, an indulgence which was graciously granted.
That evening Harry felt terribly alone, and rather discouraged.  No food, no lodging—and then his heart was lifted as he recalled Another Who said: “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head.”
Ironside had with him quite a large quantity of Gospel tracts.  After preaching at night, he crossed over into the very worse part of the city, where saloons, dance-halls, and gambling houses were in abundance, and visited one after another of these vile and godless places, giving out tracts and bearing personal testimony when he could find a ready ear.  At length, all the leaflets were disposed of—about three thousand of them.  It was two o’clock in the morning, and even the saloons were closing.  Not having any place to go, Harry began walking along the car tracks and out into the suburbs to the end of the line, where he laid down on a bench in an empty trolly car and tried to sleep.
It was rather a sold night, and he could neither keep warm nor get comfortable.  He tried to pray but seemed unable to do so.  He was hardly in the spirit of prayer, he confesses, for he was complaining to God on Whose promise of Philippians 4: 19 he had counted.  “I have a need,” he said to himself, “but God has not supplied it.  I have been seeking with all my strength to serve Him, and He has failed me.”  Perplexed and out of sorts, since he could not sleep where he was in any event; at about four o’clock, he arose and walked back into the center of the city.
In the grounds surrounding the courthouse, he saw a large weeping-willow tree whose branches hung low on all sides, and crawling under them, he managed to sleep for a couple of hours near its trunk.  When he woke up, it seemed that God was speaking to him very clearly in regard to certain things about which he had allowed himself to become careless, and in the leafy bower of the willow-tree, he knelt and poured out his heart to Him, confessing his lack of faith, his self-will, and other things that were brought to his remembrance by the Holy Spirit.  As the list of errors and failures enlarged, he no longer wondered that when he called upon the Lord, there had seemed to be no answer, and then he began to praise the Lord for all that He had done and for His unfailing mercy.  Refreshed by the hour with the Lord, Harry went over to the fountain by the courthouse and washed his hands and his face, and then set off to the Methodist Church, where he had been invited to teach a class of young men.
Presiding at the opening exercises of the Sunday School was a man who had been Harry’s Sunday School teacher a few years earlier in Los Angeles, who, when Harry had made himself known, was overjoyed to see him, and took him for a fine dinner after the church service.  In the afternoon, Harry spoke over at the Mission Hall.  Following the meeting, a young Osteopath who had been helped by the Word, introduced himself and asked: At what hotel are you staying?”
“I have been staying over in such-and-such a section,” Harry said, mentioning the area but no hotel.
“Could you come and stay with me?” the doctor inquired.  “I live alone in an apartment where I have a spare room.  I get lonesome for Christian fellowship and would be delighted to have you with me as long as you remain in Fresno.” 
Harry assented eagerly.  His friend offered to walk with him to his “hotel” for his bag, but Harry, thinking of the drug-store, assured him that that would be unnecessary.  So he went alone and ere long, joined his host in his lonely apartment.
While supper was being prepared, the doctor observed Harry’s weariness and proposed that he take a nap, and the latter, who could hardly keep his eyes open, was only too glad to follow the suggestion.  The next thing he knew, he dreamed he was passing through a most fearful earthquake—only to discover that it was his host trying to rouse him for supper.  “My brother ironside,” he exclaimed, “you certainly are a sound sleeper!”
At the evening service, fortified with two excellent meals and an hour’s sleep, his heart filled with praise to God for His goodness, Mr. Ironside seemed to have unusual liberty, and God wrought in great power.  Not a few confessed Christ as Saviour and Lord at the evenings end.  And afterward, one after another came up to shake the preacher’s hand slipping money into his palm.  When he went to his comfortable room, he counted what the Lord had sent him—over twenty-seven dollars!
On Monday morning, Harry mailed most of the money to his wife in Oakland, retaining only sufficient to see him through the series of meetings and for his carfare home.  While he was at the Post Office, he inquired for mail, to find a letter from Mr. Watson, his stepfather.  When he took the letter from the envelope, the first thing that his eyes fell upon was a postscript under Watson’s signature.  This is what it said: “God spoke to me through Philippians 4: 19 today.  He has promised to supply all our need.  Some day He may see that I need a starving.  If He does, He will supply that.”
“Our Hope” 1946


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