Some of the most interesting and spiritually profitable experiences of my life have been in connection with financial needs and God's marvellous intervention when I seemed to be at the end of all human resources. It is not always wise or profitable to speak of these testings to others lest one be misunderstood, or lest some should take it for granted that all of Christ's servants should act upon the same principles.
Long years ago, however, I, personally, felt that I should rely upon the Lord alone for my temporal support and that of my family, without making our needs known in any way to other people whether saved or not. And as to receiving from the unconverted, it has always seemed clear to me that the Lord's work and the Lord's servants should be sustained by the Lord's own people and not by those who are enemies of the cross of Christ. Sometimes, when acting on this principle, it pleased God to test me in peculiar ways which were hard to understand at the time, but for which I can now praise Him unfeignedly.
One such case I desire to recall and to share with my readers. It occurred, I think, in the year 1904. My wife and I, with our little son, not yet four years old, had been East on an evangelistic tour, visiting and preaching in a number of different places. Our home was still in Oakland, California. On the way home we were obliged, because of a short purse, to stop in Salt Lake City. At Chicago I had been able to purchase a through ticket for my wife, but for myself was unable to buy beyond Salt Lake. I concluded therefore to go on to that city and remain there till able to go farther. We arrived with a very few dollars and put up at an exceedingly cheap hotel. I asked the Lord to open some door of service and to send us, in some way, the needful wherewithal for our living expenses and my fare home. But ten days went by, and all our money was gone and there was no apparent opening for testimony. I preached every night upon the street, visiting and tract distributing each day, but not a soul could I find who seemed concerned about our message. As our little fund of silver dwindled away, I am ashamed to say that my faith seemed to dwindle too. I became anxious and troubled, and actually peevish with God for withholding what I felt I had a right to expect as His servant. As day after day our prospects grew darker, I became more and more concerned. I sold a set of books one day, the six volumes of C. H. M.'s Notes, to a Baptist minister. This enabled me to pay up our hotel bill for a week.
When the last dime was gone, my faith was at its lowest ebb and my spirit so perturbed that I had lost all sense of communion with God. For several days we had barely eked out an existence on forty cents a day. Tomorrow we would be without food unless God intervened.
Greatly distressed I went for a long walk in the snow (it was winter), and I tried to quiet my mind and get into the attitude of soul where I could really pray with the expectation of an answer, for my mind was in a turmoil.
I thought of one promise after another, but all seemed inapplicable to my case. "If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will and it shall be done," was no help, for conscience said, "You are not abiding, so there is no use asking." "Whatsoever ye shall ask in faith believing," only seemed to mock me, for I felt I had no faith left! Suddenly I remembered the words, "If two of you shall agree ... it shall be done." I did not know then the real meaning of this verse. I was not aware that to "agree" was to "symphonize," to be in harmony with God and with each other. But I grasped at the promise as a drowning man reaching for a rope.
I turned back to the hotel and found my wife in deep exercise. I said, "Helen, I want you to kneel with me, and we shall agree together to ask God for forty cents tonight so as to provide food for tomorrow and if He does this, I can trust for the future."
She joined with me and prayed earnestly. I still remember my own wretched attempt at prayer. I said, "O Lord, we claim this promise. We two are agreed to ask for forty cents tonight. If we do not receive it, I shall never believe this verse again." My wife shuddered and implored me not to speak to God like that, but I was so upset I would not heed her admonition. I went out to preach, saying as I left her, "This is the test. If God does not hear us, I simply cannot pray any more."
You will wonder how I could preach when in such a rebellious frame of mind. I wonder at it myself today. But I spoke to a crowd of about three hundred people for perhaps forty minutes. As I turned away when the meeting was ended, I thought some Christian might come to me and offer some expression of fellowship, but no one spoke to me. I walked away in bitterness of soul.
I had gone a full block when two men came hurrying after me. One exclaimed, "You forgot something; didn't you?"
"What?" I asked.
"Why, you did not take a collection at your meeting!"
"I never do," I replied.
"Well, how do you live?"
"Why, I just trust the Lord and He meets my need." The words were out before I realized the hypocrisy of which I was guilty at that moment, for I was not trusting at all. I was filled with doubt and fear. But the men were not to be put off.
One exclaimed, "Well, shake hands any way," and as he took my hand I felt several small coins pressed into my palm. The other immediately did the same.
Suddenly I realized that I had not inquired if they were Christians. So I said, "Gentlemen, I thank you, but are you Christians yourselves? I do not accept money from the unsaved."
"That's all right," they exclaimed; "we know all about it. We have been out for two years without purse or scrip ourselves."
I knew that meant that they were Mormon elders. I started to insist that I must return the money, but they dashed off in the crowd and were lost to sight. I opened my hand and found two dimes and four nickels! As I looked at the forty cents, I felt humbled indeed. God had answered my ill-tempered prayer, but He had sent two ravens — men of an alien faith — to feed His unworthy servant.
I hastened to the hotel, showed my wife the money, and we fell on our knees and thanked Him for His mercy, and I confessed my sins of unbelief and complaining against His providences.
The next day a letter came with sufficient money to meet our needs. ...How rich we felt, and how we realized that God our Father had not forgotten, but was caring for us even when I was in such a backslidden state of soul.
How good to know that He understands all our weaknesses and He remembers that we are dust, and that,
"God never is before His time,
And never is behind."
Copied for WholesomeWords.org from Random Reminiscences From Fifty Years of Ministry by H. A. Ironside. New York: Loizeaux Bros., 1939.
Selections from Random Reminiscences from Fifty Years of Ministry