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Edward Irving: Preacher, Prophet and Charismatic Theologian


The restoration of the power of the Holy Spirit has come to fruition in the 21st century. The charismatic renewal has touched nearly every segment of the Church around the world. It is exciting to be part of a spiritual movement that has affected literally hundreds of millions of people. Yet this restoration of Pentecostal power did not come about without a countless number of willing servants—pastors, evangelists, theologians and writers—who sacrificed much to proclaim the Word of God in its charismatic fullness. Many of their stories have been told; many have not. Pentecostal pioneers such as William Seymour, John G. Lake & Smith Wigglesworth have been celebrated in books, journal articles and publications. Pre-Pentecostal voices such as A. B. Simpson, R. A. Torrey, A. J. Gordon, Andrew Murray and others have been documented and many of their writings are still in circulation. But there is one story that still remains in the shadows. It is the story of Edward Irving. He lived a life of controversy and spiritual awakening. He was a pastor, leader, theologian and author. The noted British poet, Samuel Coleridge said of Irving, “I hold that Edward Irving possesses more of the spirit and purpose of the first Reformers, that he has more of the Head and Heart, the Life, the Unction, and the genial power of Martin Luther, than any man now alive…”1 Edward Irving was a reformer. He called the Church to reclaim apostolic charismatic power, the power of the Holy Spirit.


Early Years

Edward Irving (1792-1834), circa 1823.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Edward Irving was born on August 4, 1792 in Annan, Scotland, the second son of Gavin and Mary Irving. Edward was baptized at the Annan Parish Church, a local Presbyterian congregation. As a child he attended a school led by Adam Hope, who often led Irving and others to the nearby village of Ecclefechan on Sunday morning. They attended a Seceder Church, which met in a thatched meeting-house with no roof.2 At age ten or eleven, Irving walked with Hope and other men to the church and was intrigued by their conversations about philosophy and theology. As a child, Irving sensed a call to serve the Lord in full time ministry.

At age thirteen, Irving entered the University at Edinburgh to undertake a course of study in liberal arts. After four years of sacrifice, dedication and tireless study, Irving graduated with a Master of Arts degree at the age of seventeen. Within the next year, Irving received a teaching position in Haddington, which gave him financial support to pursue a part-time course of study in Divinity at the University in Edinburgh. By age twenty, Irving was promoted to schoolmaster of a new school in Kirkcaldy. Irving was extremely popular among the students there.3 Irving continued his theological studies and completed his Divinity degree in six years. His degree was accompanied by a license to preach. This was not ordination from the Church of Scotland, but a license that allowed him to speak from the pulpit when invited by a minister. Irving continually developed his preaching style during this time, which consisted of polished oratory and sophisticated sounding phrases. He preached with quite a flamboyant style that somewhat annoyed the people of Kirkcaldy and excited others.


Ministry in Glasgow

In 1819, Irving received the call to serve as the assistant of Dr. Thomas Chalmers at St. John’s Church in Glasgow. As an assistant to Chalmers, Irving was responsible for visiting the poor and sharing the preaching duties. The two men preached in completely different styles. Each appealed to different groups in the church. Some detested Irving’s flamboyant preaching to the degree that if they would find that he was preaching on a Sunday morning, they would walk out. Often Irving passed scores of people walking out of the church, while he was walking in to preach.4 He faithfully administered his duties, but never felt fully satisfied. In 1822, Irving was invited to fill the pulpit at The Caledonian Chapel in London for a few Sundays. The church officials were looking for a pastor and after hearing Irving preach, they unanimously called him to serve as their full time minister. He accepted. After receiving ordination from the Church of Scotland at his home church in Annan, he took on the pastorate of The Caledonian Chapel in London in July of 1822 at the age of thirty.

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Category: Church History, Spring 2002

About the Author: Derek Vreeland, MDiv (Oral Roberts University), DMin (Asbury Theological Seminary), is the Discipleship Pastor at Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Missouri. He is the author of Shape Shifters: How God Changes the Human Heart: A Trinitarian Vision of Spiritual Transformation (Word & Spirit Press, 2008), Primal Credo: Your Entrance into the Apostles' Creed (Doctrina Press, 2011), and Through the Eyes of N.T. Wright: A Reader's Guide to Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Doctrina Press, 2015). Twitter: @DerekVreeland

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