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Edward Irving: Preacher, Prophet and Charismatic Theologian

 

A Life Cut Short

In March 1833, the Church of Scotland in Irving’s hometown of Annan charged him with heresy regarding Irving’s doctrine of the “sinfulness of our Lord’s human nature.” The London Presbytery had already rendered a judgment condemning Irving as a heretic although the lacked the ecclesiastical authority to remove his ordination. Irving was ordained by the Church of Scotland in Annan, therefore the Presbytery that convened there had the authority to revoke Irving’s ordination. The trial was held on March 13th. Irving did not offer a systematic defense as in his trial in London. Instead he delivered a rather lavish speech. With a dramatic flair, Irving addressed the audience and not his accusers. He dismissed their claims concerning his ministry as null and void. The trial was more of a formality than a legal investigation. The Presbytery had already decided upon their judgment—guilty. At the end of the trial, one of the ministers was asked to close in prayer prior to the reading of the verdict. Before the prayer could begin, David Dow, a minister and follower of Irving, stood and broke the silence with an urgent-sounding prophecy. He uttered, “Arise, depart! Arise depart! Flee ye out of her, flee ye out of her! Ye cannot pray! How can ye pray? How can ye pray to Christ whom he deny? Ye cannot pray. Depart, depart! Flee, flee!”35 The crowd erupted into a frenzy. Irving stood and walked out of the church in response to the prophetic word.

He returned to London without the fanfare expected of a hero. His influence in the budding movement was slipping. He was officially recognized as the “Angel” or senior pastor of the flock, but he lacked the authority of the apostles and prophets. On April 23, 1833, Irving received a disheartening blow—his youngest son, Ebenezer died. The child had been sick for some time and Irving had prayed constantly for his healing. He persisted in his prayers of faith believing that his son would not be “overpowered” by sickness. Irving carried on in his preaching ministry, but as 1833 rolled on, his battle for healing intensified. He began to fight for his own health. By the summer of 1834, it was becoming clear that Irving was having tuberculosis-like symptoms. In a letter dated August 15, 1834, Thomas Carlyle wrote to his brother a medical doctor, “He complains of biliousness, of pain at his right short rib; he has a short, thick cough, which comes at the slightest irritation.”36 Irving continued to travel, conducting his ministry in Scotland and throughout the English countryside, much to the disapproval of his doctors. Friends and medical professionals alike encouraged Irving to rest in a warmer climate. While traveling to Glasgow he broke out with a fever. On December 7, 1834, Irving breathed his last. His dying words were, “If I die, I die unto the Lord. Amen.”37

 

The Influence of Edward Irving

Irving’s premature death raises the question, “What would the extent of his influence have been if he had not died at age 42?” Irving formulated the role of tongues in the baptism of the Holy Spirit in quite Pentecostal terms. As noted by Irving scholar David Dorries, Irving concluded that (1) “every baptized person is privileged to posses” the baptism in the Holy Spirit by faith.38 (2) The “standing sign” of Spirit baptism is speaking with tongues.39 (3) The gift of tongues is the “root and stem of all of (the spiritual gifts), out of which they all grow and by which they are all nourished.”40 A common assumption is that Irving’s charismatic theology has no historical connections to the modern Pentecostal movement. Larry Christenson notes,

The correlation between pentecostalism and the Catholic Apostolic church (i.e. Edward Irving) suggests the possibility that both movements, independently of one another, apprehended a common area of truth. The points of comparison between the two movements do not root out of a connection in history, but out of a common origin beyond history. The cluster of similarities is neither causally related not is it accidental.41

To claim that there is no historical connection is an oversimplification based on a lack of textual evidence. While Irving’s influence on Pentecostalism is not as pronounced as that of the Wesleyan tradition, there are at least three historical links between Irving and the Holiness-Pentecostal tradition. These links are found in the writings of John Alexander Dowie, A.J. Gordon and Charles Parham.42

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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). http://derekvreeland.com Twitter: @DerekVreeland

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