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 Edward Irving

 

Edward Irving was invited to be the minister of the Caledonian Chapel in London in July 1822 when he was almost thirty. He had completed all the stringent requirements to obtain a "License to Preach" in the Scottish Church. Most people in Scotland did not like his flamboyant style. In London it was different. Within nine months the congregation had grown from fifty to more than one thousand. A ticket system was introduced because the building was only designed to hold five hundred. People from all walks of life flocked to hear him denounce the evils of his day. In 1824 they moved to a new church in Regent Square which was then the largest in London.

In 1824 Irving was invited to be the speaker at the annual meeting of the London Missionary Society. Irving regularly preached long sermons but this was longer than usual and the service lasted three and a half hours. They expected an inspiring account of their work which would encourage liberal future support. However, he gave a detailed exposition of missionary work in the New Testament showing how the disciples were sent out by Jesus in the power of the Spirit without any money. He argued that these methods should still be used today. His hosts were annoyed further when Irving later published a more detailed account of his views entitled, "Missionaries after the Apostolic School."

It is interesting to note, as a result of the outpouring of the Spirit at the start of this century, many missionaries went out as Irving advocated. Most of them found they needed the backing of an organization to survive. Irving's "fundamental" approach to the Bible was very different from the "liberal" view of many who had recently embraced the teaching of Schleiermacher. As a result of studying the Bible, Irving was convinced that Jesus Christ was able to resist temptation because the Holy Spirit dwelt in Him. This was contrary to the generally accepted view at that time which was that Jesus did not sin because He was divine. Most of Irving's congregation agreed with his interpretation because it showed them they could resist sin just as Jesus did for, on earth, he was exactly as they were.

Religious Establishment
The religious establishment disagreed strongly and Irving aggravated the situation by some of his actions. The result was that in 1830 he was found guilty on four charges of heresy by the London Presbytery and declared to be no longer a member. At this time Irving still had the support of the oversight of his church.

Irving's study of the Bible had also convinced him that all Christians should be baptized in the Holy Spirit and as evidence they would speak in tongues. There should also be prophecies and healings. (The general view was that these outward signs of power had ceased after the death of the apostles and the baptism was now limited to the inward gift of sanctification and fruitfulness.) During 1830 there were claims that people in the west of Scotland were manifesting these signs. After careful investigation, Irving was convinced they were genuine and that this was the start of the final outpouring of the Holy Spirit before the return of Jesus Christ.

Gifts of the Spirit
Prayer meetings were held in London for God to pour out His Spirit. Soon speaking in tongues and interpretations were a regular occurrence. To maintain some order, Irving insisted people should only speak in tongues during two specified periods in the prayer meeting and never in the Sunday services. In the morning service on Sunday 30 October 1831 a lady felt under an irresistible urge to speak in tongues. Trying to observe the restrictions of the minister, she ran into the vestry. Then another lady feeling the same urge, ran out into the street. After careful consideration, Irving decided to allow tongues and interpretation in the Sunday services.

This was too much for the trustees and so they took legal advice. Two eminent lawyers advised them to proceed to remove Irving by complaining to the London Presbytery as required by their Trust deed. This raised several problems but the result was that, on the 26 April 1832, the London Presbytery found Irving guilty of deviations from the doctrine and discipline of the Church of Scotland. Those who gathered at the church for the early morning prayer meeting on Friday 4 May found the doors locked against them. On Sunday about 800 people, mainly from Regent Square, joined Irving for communion in a hired hall nearby. After some months they moved to Newman Street and the organization which developed became known as, "The Catholic Apostolic Church." They were nicknamed, "Irvingites."

Prophecy
Irving was particularly interested in prophecy. He predicted there would be a widespread outpouring of the Holy Spirit and that the Jews would return to their own land. These have both happened in the first half of this century. Irving thought it would be much sooner. He believed the Millennium would commence in 1867. For many people, his prophecies convinced them he was a "crank."

Irving claimed he came under the jurisdiction of the Presbytery in Annan, Scotland from which he received his ordination to the Church of Scotland. The annual assembly in 1832 commissioned the Annan Presbytery to try Irving as soon as possible. On 13 March 1833 he was found guilty of maintaining the sinfulness of the Saviour in His human nature and deposed from the ministry. (Although Irving referred to the human nature of Christ as, "That sinful substance" he also affirmed that Christ never did sin.)

Divine Healing
Irving not only believed in Divine healing but also that sickness came as a consequence of sin. Three of his four children died at an early age. Irving had believed God would heal them but then decided it was judgment for his sin. He found he had consumption and when his illness became worse he concluded God was again judging him although there is no apparent justification for this. He died on 7 December 1834 at the age of forty two and was buried in the crypt of Glasgow Cathedral.

Irving clearly anticipated many of the Pentecostal beliefs although no one has been able to trace any direct connection. He made many mistakes and Pentecostals could have learned from them. This only confirms the observation of Hegel that history teaches us people have never learned anything from history.

 


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