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Edward Irving: Preacher, Prophet and Charismatic Theologian


Dowie was born in Scotland, shared a common homeland with Irving. In 1848, Dowie’s father, John Murray, was won to Christ by a disciple of Irving. Dowie was plagued by sickness as a child. In 1860, Dowie and his family relocated to Australia, where he was healed through the prayer of faith. Consequently, he felt a call to serve in full time ministry. He returned to Scotland in 1868 to study at Irving’s alma mater, the University of Edinburgh. After serving as a pastor in Australia, he began an itinerate preaching ministry in the United States. He settled in the Chicago area by 1890. This became the headquarters of his healing ministry. At the turn of the twentieth century, Dowie established the utopian-like Zion City, north of Chicago. Zion City was a self supported city with industrial factors, schools, libraries, businesses and ministries to orphans and widows. At the heart of the city was Shiloh Tabernacle, an 8,000 seat sanctuary. Dowie led the ministry until is death in March of 1907. Although Dowie is pre-Pentecostal in that he did not teach speaking in tongues as the initial evidence of Spirit Baptism, his broke the theological ground for many Pentecostal leaders.

During his ministry he published a weekly newsletter, the Leaves of Healing. This was his primary source of communication with the thousands of supporters he had around the world. In volume XV, Dowie calls Irving his “predecessor” and in reference to Irving states, “a greater and mightier man of God never stood upon the earth.”43 While there is no documentation at this point, it is conceivable that Dowie became familiar with Irving while studying for the ministry in the late 1860s. He may have read either The Collected Writings of Edward Irving published in 1865 or Mrs. Oliphant’s The Life of Edward Irving published in 1862. Dowie was admittedly influenced by Irving’s faith and anti-cessationist theology.

A. J. Gordon was a contemporary of Dowie. Gordon was born in New Hampton in 1836. At his conversion at age 15, Gordon sensed a call into full time ministry. Upon completion of his studies at Newton Theological Seminary, he was ordained as a Baptist ministry. He pastored Clarendon Street Baptist Church in Boston for 25 years. He was actively involved in the faith cure movement and the evangelistic ministry of D. L. Moody. Gordon maintained a healing ministry through his local church and wrote numerous articles on the subject of divine healing. His greatest contribution to faith cure literature was The Ministry of Healing, a theological defense of the present-day experience of supernatural healing. Gordon died eleven years before the Pentecostal movement was launched from Azusa in 1906. However, his influence shaped the theology of the coming Pentecostal revival.

In The Ministry of Healing, Gordon devotes a single chapter to “The Testimony of Theologians.” He cites scholars who defended the continuance of miracles. In his theological line up, he quotes from Augustine, Luther, Edward Irving, Thomas Erskine, and Horace Bushnell. Concerning Irving, Gordon writes,

…we confess that our heart has always gone out to (Irving) in reverence for his heroic fidelity to the Word of God, and his willingness, in allegiance to that Word, to follow Christ “without the camp bearing his reproach” (Hebrews 13:13). And we believe that when the Master shall come to recompense His servants, this one will attain a high reward and receive of the Lord double for the broken heart with which he went down to his grave. Irving wrote upon this subject (of spiritual gifts) with his usual masterly ability.44

Gordon continues by quoting twice from the collected works of Irving as evidence that the gifts of healing faded due to the “wintry blasts” of unbelief in God’s word. Gordon observes that Irving “reasoned so powerfully and prayed so earnestly for the recovery by the Church of her primitive gifts. If the effort brought pain and persecution to him, we believe it has brought forth some very sweet and genial fruits in others.”45

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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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