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Did H.A. Ironside Teach Commitment Salvation?

by Bob Wilkin

One writer has recently suggested that H. A. Ironside's view of repentance is the same as that of modern Commitment Salvation (i.e., Lordship Salvation) advocates (John F. MacArthur, Jr., The Gospel According to Jesus, p.160). The impression was given that Ironside taught Commitment Salvation.

This surprised me. I read Ironside's work Except Ye Repent as part of my work on my doctoral dissertation. I concluded that he held to the change-of-mind view of repentance, not the turn-from-sins position.

Did Ironside indeed teach Commitment Salvation?

I went back and re-read Ironside.

Here is what I found.

Ironside did, on rare occasions, make statements which, if taken by themselves, could be taken to imply a mild form of Commitment Salvation. He said, for example:

    Shallow preaching that does not grapple with the terrible fact of man's sinfulness and guilt, calling on "all men everywhere to repent," results in shallow conversions; and so we have myriads of glib-tongued professors today who give no evidence of regeneration whatever. Prating of salvation by grace, they manifest no grace in their lives. 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. (Except Ye Repent, [New York: Loizeaus Bros., 1937],p. 11)

I consulted the immediate and greater context and found that this quote does not prove that Ironside shared the Commitment Salvation view of repentance. The sentences cited are ambiguous as to exactly what Ironside meant. He could have meant that these conversions, though shallow, were real. However, even if he meant that they were false conversions as evidenced by a lack of works, that does not at all prove that he held to Commitment Salvation. We must look elsewhere to see what Ironside had to say on that subject.

In his book Full Assurance Ironside answers the question of whether we should look within ourselves for our assurance of salvation:

    Looking into your own heart for a ground of confidence is like casting the anchor in the hold of a ship. Cast it outside and let it go down into the great, tossing ocean of strife and trouble, until it grips the rock itself. Christ alone is the rock, and He is the manifestation of the infinite love of God for sinners. (Full Assurance, [Chicago: Moody Press, 1968, revised edition of the 1937 original, pp.120-21).

Are those the words of one promoting Commitment Salvation? Surely they are not.

When Ironside spoke of the need to "grapple with the terrible fact of man's sinfulness and guilt," there is no reason to assume that he meant that unbelievers need to commit themselves to the Lordship of Christ and turn from their sins to be saved. Elsewhere he taught that one had to recognize his own sinfulness and need of grace (Except Ye Repent, pp. 11-12, 34), turn from all other confidences and place his faith solely in Jesus Christ (p. 175), and go from rejecting to accepting Jesus and His Gospel (pp.53, 174).

That is not the Commitment Salvation view of repentance.

Ironside actually taught a Free Grace view of the Gospel. He said:

    Repentance is the very opposite of meritorious experience. It is the confession that one is utterly without merit, and if he is ever saved at all it can only be through the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ, "who gave himself a ransom for all." Here is firm footing for the soul who realizes that all self-effort is but sinking sand. Christ alone is the Rock of our salvation." (Except Ye Repent, p.36)

And again:

    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). (Except Ye Repent, p.189)

If one is not careful he can misrepresent an author by selectively quoting him. [One could even selectively quote a Commitment Salvation writer and make it appear that he held to Free Grace Salvation.] Such is the case here. It is misrepresenting him to suggest that Dr. Ironside taught Commitment/Lordship Salvation. He would be deeply grieved by such a suggestion. Let the record show that Dr. Ironside was a proponent of Free Grace Salvation and assurance based on our infallible Savior, not our fallible works.

Bob Wilkin is the Founder and Executive Director of Grace Evangelical Society.

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