By Bob Wilkin
Henry (Harry) Allan Ironside was born on October 14, 1876, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Interestingly, Ironside quit school after eighth grade and never had any further formal education. Yet he authored more than twenty books. Some of his more famous works were Holiness: The False and the True, Except Ye Repent, Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth: Ultra-Dispensationalism Examined, and Eternal Security of the Believer. Many of his works are available today as free eBooks (see here: https://www.wholesomewords.org/biography/ biorpironside.html).
He received honorary doctorates from Wheaton College (now University) and Bob Jones University.
According to Wikipedia, Ironside “preached almost 7,000 sermons to over 1.5 million listeners” (s.v. “Harry A. Ironside”).
For much of his life he served in Plymouth Brethren assemblies. However, in 1929 he became interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago. He became the official pastor in 1930, serving there until 1948.
He became the head of Africa Inland Mission in 1942.
Ironside died on January 15, 1951, while on a preaching tour in New Zealand. He was buried in Auckland.
I have suggested in the past that Ironside was a Free Grace proponent (June 1989 Grace in Focus). I suggested that based on many quotes to that effect in his writings. However, Lordship Salvation proponents have claimed that Ironside held to Lordship Salvation. For example, John MacArthur wrote:
Even in his day Ironside recognized the dangers of an incipient easy-believism. He said, “Shallow preaching…results in shallow conversions…Loudly declaring they are justified by faith alone, they fail to remember that ‘faith without works is dead’; and that justification by works before men is not to be ignored as though it were in contradiction to justification by faith before God” (The Gospel According to Jesus, 1989 edition, p. 160, quoting Ironside, Except Ye Repent, p. 11).
I believe that quote does not represent the bulk of Ironside’s writing and preaching, and even that quote merely shows that Ironside at that time was explaining certain tough texts and issues in the same way that most Free Grace people did at the time.
In fact, that quote does not even accurately represent what Ironside wrote in his book Except Ye Repent. Note this strong Free Grace statement on the second to last page of that book:
If these pages fall into the hands of any anxious, troubled soul, desirous of finding the way of peace and earnestly seeking to be right with God, let me urge such a one to give up all struggling. Just believe God. Tell Him you are the sinner for whom the Saviour died, and trust in Christ alone for salvation. His own word is clear and simple: “Verily, verily I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death into life” (John 5:24).
As I read Ironside’s book on eternal security, I saw that he strongly defended the faith-alone message, the Free Grace message. However, he did occasionally fall back on explanations that true believers will live godly lives and will demonstrate their faith in their works. For example, there is a small amount of fuzziness in the first sentence in this statement:
It is not merely that if we are faithful to the end, we shall receive eternal life. There is a sense in which that is true, there is a sense in which our hope is eternal life. I am a Christian now if I believe on the Lord Jesus Christ; believing on Him I have eternal life, but I have it in a dying body. I am now waiting for the redemption of the body, and when the Lord Jesus comes the second time, He shall change this body of my humiliation and make it like unto the body of His glory. Then I shall have received eternal life in all its fulness, spirit, soul, and body entirely conformed to Christ. In that sense I am hoping for eternal life. But over, and over, and over again, Scripture rings the changes on the fact that every believer is at the present time in possession of eternal life [under the heading, “Eternal Life Possessed Now”].
A few pages after that section and quote, Ironside ends his book on eternal security by answering 24 objections. The fuzziness seen in the preceding quote increased in his answer to Question 3 about John 8:31. After quoting John 8:31 about being Jesus’ disciples indeed only if we abide in His word, he wrote, “Every man who knows the truth of eternal security believes it. There is no use for a person to profess to be a disciple of Jesus if he does not continue. It is this that proves there is a genuine work of the Spirit of God in his soul” (emphasis added).
See also his explanation of Heb 6:4-8 that the people referred to were not genuine believers (in answer to Question 11). Likewise, he says that the people who fell away in 2 Pet 2:20-22 were not genuine believers (in answer to Question 10).
Those explanations, while fuzzy, were the ones popular with people like Chafer, Walvoord, and Ryrie. They do not mean that he held to Lordship Salvation. He did not.
Ironside does have a nice explanation of Ezek 18:24 (Question 9). He writes, “the ‘life’ spoken of in Ezekiel is not eternal life in Christ. It is life here on earth prolonged under the divine government, because of obedience, or cut short because of sin.”
Harry Ironside was a remarkable person. With little education, he rose to be one of the most famous preachers and authors of his day. While he might have said or written some things that are inconsistent with the Free Grace position, so did most of the Free Grace people of his generation. He did not have the opportunity to read The Hungry Inherit, The Gospel Under Siege, Grace
in Eclipse, Reign of the Servant Kings, Confident in Christ, or Secure and Sure.
Bob Wilkin is Executive Director of Grace Evangelical Society. He lives in Highland Village, TX, with his wife of 46 years, Sharon. He is an avid race walker and marathon walker.