Remember This If You Are Ever Challenged to a Debate

Harry A. Ironside tells this remarkable story about being challenged to a debate.

Early in his ministry Ironside was living in the San Francisco Bay area, working with some Christians called Brethren. One evening as he was walking through he city he came upon a group of Salvation Army workers holding a meeting on the corner of Market and Grant Avenues. When they recognized Ironside they asked if he would give his testimony. So he did, giving a word about how God had saved him through faith in the bodily death and literal resurrection of Jesus.

As he was speaking, Ironside noticed that on the edge of the crowd was a well-dressed man who had taken a card from his pocket and had written something on it. As Ironside finished his talk the man came forward, lifted his hat, and very politely handed Ironside the card. On one side was his name, which Ironside recognized immediately. The man was one of the early socialists who had made a name for himself lecturing against Christianity. As Ironside turned the card over he read, “Sir, I challenge you to debate with me the question ‘Agnosticism versus Christianity’ in the Academy of Science Hall next Sunday afternoon at four o’clock. I will pay all expenses.”

Ironside reread the card aloud and then replied:

I am very much interested in this challenge. Frankly, I am already scheduled for another meeting next Lord’s Day afternoon at three o’clock, but I think it will be possible for me to get through with that in time to reach the Academy of Science by four, or if necessary I could arrange to have another speaker substitute for me at the meeting already advertised. Therefore I will be glad to agree to this debate on the following conditions: namely, that in order to prove that this gentleman has something worth debating about, he will promise to bring with him to the Hall next Sunday two people, whose qualifications I will give in a moment, as proof that agnosticism is of real value in changing human lives and building true character.

First, he must promise to bring with him one man who was for years what we commonly call a “down-and-outer.” I am not particular as to the exact nature of the sins that had wrecked his life and made him an outcast from society–whether a drunkard, or a criminal of some kind, or a victim of his sensual appetite–but a man who for years was under the power of evil habits from which he could not deliver himself, but who on some occasion entered one of this man’s meetings and heard his glorification of agnosticism and his denunciations of the Bible and Christianity, and whose heart and mind as he listened to such an address were so deeply stirred that he went away from that meeting saying, “Henceforth, I too am an agnostic!” and as a result of imbibing that particular philosophy found that a new power had come into his life. The sins he once loved he now hates, and righteousness and goodness are now the ideals of his life. He is now an entirely new man, a credit to himself and an asset to society–all because he is an agnostic.

Secondly, I would like my opponent to promise to bring with him one woman–I think he may have more difficulty in finding the woman than the man–who was once a poor, wrecked, characterless outcast, the slave of evil passions and the victim of man’s corrupt living, perhaps one who had lived for years in some evil resort, utterly lost, ruined and wretched because of her life of sin.
… But this woman also entered a hall where this man was loudly proclaiming his agnosticism and ridiculing the message of the Holy Scriptures. As she listened, hope was born in her heart, and she said, “This is just what I need to deliver me from the slavery of sin!” She followed the teaching until she became an intelligent agnostic or infidel. As a result, her whole being revolted against the degradation of the life she had been living. She fled from the den of iniquity where she had been held captive so long; and today, rehabilitated, she has won her way back to an honored position in society and is living a clean, virtuous, happy life–all because she is an agnostic.

“Now.” he said, addressing the gentleman who had presented him with his card and the challenge, “if you will promise to bring these to people with you as examples of what agnosticism can do, I will promise to meet you at the Hall of Science at four o’clock next Sunday, and I will bring with me at the very least one hundred men and women who for years lived in just such sinful degradation as I have tried to depict, but who have been gloriously saved through believing the gospel which you ridicule. I will have these men and women with me on the platform as witnesses to the miraculous saving power of Jesus Christ and as present-day proof of the truth of the Bible.”

Dr. Ironside then turned to the Salvation Army captain, a woman, and said, “Captain, have you any who could go with me to such a meeting?”

She exclaimed with enthusiasm, “We can give you forty at least, just from this one corps, and we will give you a brass band to lead the procession!”

“Fine,” Dr. Ironside answered. “Now, sir, I will have no difficulty picking up sixty others from the various missions, gospel halls, and evangelical churches of the city. So if you will promise to bring two such exhibits as I have described, I will come marching in at the head of such a procession, with the band playing Onward, Christian Soldiers,’ and I will be ready for the debate.”

Apparently the man who had made the challenge had some sense of humor, for he smiled wryly and waved his hand in a deprecating kind of way as if to say, “Nothing doing!” and then edged out of the crowd while the bystanders applauded Ironside and the others.

H.A. Ironside, Random Reminiscences from Fifty Years of Ministry, 99-109

Recommended Devotionals for 2022

A roundup of resources that would make a could accompaniment to your Bible reading.

The Heart of a Servant Leader by Jack Miller

Jack Miller was a servant-hearted leader who consistently pointed others to the strength of Christ. A seminary professor, pastor, missionary, he was no stranger to hardships, which made him an excellent companion to walk his readers through their own trials of faith. These letters are a spiritual feast.

Voices From the Past Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 compiled by Richard Rushing

Scholar Richard Rushing spent more than a decade compiling these devotional writings from great Puritan thinkers like Richard Baxter, John Bunyan, Steven Charnock, Jonathan Edwards, John Owen, Samuel Rutherford, Richard Sibbes and many others. I’ve worked through each volume a few times and always find fresh, deep, provocative reflections.

The Promises of God and Morning and Evening by C.H. Spurgeon

Spurgeon was a master at balancing his sophisticated knowledge of the Scriptures with a warm pastoral heart. His daily readings from various verses throughout the Scriptures are always practical and gospel-saturated. The Promises of God were previously published as The Checkbook of Faith and encourage readers to trust more fully in the promises of God.

God’s Wisdom for Navigating Your Life and The Songs of Jesus by Tim Keller

Keller is one of the great thinkers and writers of the our time. In these devotional resoruces, he takes us through the Proverbs and Psalms and teaches readers to both meditate on the Scriptures and properly apply them to our lives. Time with these will proved to be time well spent.

The Letters of Samuel Rutherford

Samuel Rutherford was a Scottish pastor who lived in the 17th century. A significant part of his ministry included writing letters to those under his care. In these letters, Rutherford encouraged his people by calling them to take comfort in Christ. Rutherford was uniquely qualified to comfort the afflicted as he lost his beloved wife only two years into their marriage. Spurgeon wrote of these letters, “When we are dead and gone let the world know that Spurgeon held Rutherford’s Letters to be the nearest thing to inspiration which can be found in all the writings of mere men.”

Memoir & Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne

Robert Murray M’Cheyne was a Scottish minister in the 19th century. He ministered faithfully for eight years and then died of typhus at age 29. His memoirs were published by his close friend and college companion, Andrew Bonar. Spurgeon said of this volume “This is one of the best and most profitable volumes ever published. The memoir of such a man ought surely to be in the hands of every Christian, and certainly every preacher of the Gospel.”

Select Letters of John Newton

I discovered the letters of John Newton when Tim Keller put them on his 2008 Summer Reading List. As Keller put it, “These letters are classics of spirituality and devotion.”  This famous slave trader upon his conversion, became a poweful minister of the gospel who would write the beloved hymn, “Amazing Grace.” These letters are worth reading and rereading.

The Valley of Vision

An excellent collection of Puritan prayers which capture the tenacity with which these pastors and thinkers pursued their personal faith and stired hearts. Similar to the Psalms, these prayers will add vocabulary to your prayer life.  If growing in prayer is your aim, then The Valley of Vision must become regular part of your repertoire.

See more book recommendatrions here.

Spurgeon: Ready for the Return of Christ

C.H. Spurgeon describes how two groups of people will expereince the return of Christ.

But who can endure the day of his coming . . . ?  (Malachi 3:2)

Christ’s first coming was without external pomp or display of power, and yet in truth there were few who could endure its test. Herod and all Jerusalem with him were stirred at the news of the wondrous birth. Those who supposed themselves to be waiting for Him showed the fallacy of their professions by rejecting Him when He came. His life on earth was like a winnowing fan that sifted the great heap of religious profession, and only a few could survive the process. But what will His second coming be? What sinner can endure to think of it? “He shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked” (Isaiah 11:4). In Gethsemane when He said to the soldiers, “I am he,” they fell backward. What will happen to His enemies when He will reveal Himself more fully as the “I Am”? His death shook earth and darkened heaven. What will be the dreadful splendor of that day when as the living Savior He will summon the living and the dead before Him? O that the terrors of the Lord would persuade men to forsake their sins and kiss the Son in case He is angry! Though a lamb, He is still the lion of the tribe of Judah, tearing the prey in pieces; and though He does not break the bruised reed, yet He will break His enemies with a rod of iron and dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel. None of His foes shall stand before the tempest of His wrath or hide themselves from the sweeping hail of His indignation. But His beloved blood-washed people look for His appearing with joy; in this living hope they live without fear. To them He sits as a refiner even now, and when He has tested them they shall come forth as gold. Let us examine ourselves this morning and make our calling and election sure, so that the coming of the Lord may not be the cause of fearful expectations. O for grace to discard all hypocrisy, and to be found of Him sincere and without rebuke on the day of His appearing.

(Morning by Morning, Spurgeon, 10/15)