Edward Irving was born in Scotland on August 4, 1792. He entered college at Edinburgh, Scotland after graduation became a tutor. He continued his studies and graduated to become a minister in the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian). In 1822 he was called to pastor a congregation at the Caledonian Chapel in London. It was a dying church with about 50 members. Irving had a flamboyant style, and within a few months the congregation had climbed to 1000 members. In 1827 a larger building was purchased in Regent square to handle the crowds.
1826 through 1829 were pivotal years for Irving. He was in close relationship with a church led by John McLeod Campbell, in West Scotland. McLeod’s assistant, A.J. Scott challenged the cessationist belief that the gifts of the Spirit had ceased. In 1827, after studying the Book of Acts, Irving began to teach this new idea at Regent Square. He believed that what the early church experienced was supposed to be normative for the church. Irving also began to focus on the Apocalyptic writings of the bible. He studied the end-times, and declared that there will be a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit and then Jesus would return. He also believed that the Jews would be returned to Israel. Unfortunately, in his zeal, he believed that the return of Christ was imminent. He predicts that Christ would return in 1864.
He began a series of classes regarding the power of evil in the world, and invited his parishioners to seek the Holy Spirit. He believed that if they did, the Spirit would become manifest in them, and the signs and miraculous gifts, such as speaking in tongues, healing, and prophecy would be restored to the Church through them. Irving also preached on the Holy Spirit at McLead’s church during the summers of 1828-29. A.J. Scott came to Regent Square to be his assistant.
Things began to shift in 1830 in Scotland in McLeod’s church. In March a woman, named Mary Campbell, spoke in an unknown tongue. In April, Margaret MacDonald prophesied “there will be a mighty baptism of the Spirit this day.” Both of these women were known to each other and both were ill. After Margaret shared with her brother about the Holy Spirit and prayed for him to be filled, he was. After a short time he came to where she was lying in bed and commanded her to “stand and be upright”. She was immediately healed. This brother wrote Mary a letter testifying of his sister’s healing and saying that Mary would also be healed. She had been asking God to be healed, and upon receiving the letter became well immediately. People began to come from all over Scotland and England to hear about these and the gifts began to break out in these meetings.
Irving began to teach that Jesus, being totally human, had the potential to sin, but did not because he was totally filled and led by the Holy Spirit. He believed absolutely in the divinity of Christ but also his humanity. The Church of Scotland considered it heresy to believe that Christ, as God, could even have a potential for sin and declared the teaching heresy. Rumors spread that Irving was teaching that Jesus sinned, which he utterly refuted.
Irving started teaching on healing the sick. The text he chose was “And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. Mark 16:17-18 (KJV) Unfortunately he believed that sickness was always an outworking of sin or the work of Satan. Healing, for Irving, was about warfare. Sadly, when his own son died he believed it was because there was sin in his life.
In 1831 a man named John Cardale had taken a group, from the church, to West Scotland to see what was happening there. The church started prayers groups crying out to God for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Irving began a 6:30 am prayer group, attended by 600 to 1000 people daily, to cry out for the Holy Spirit to bring his gifts. On April 31st John Cardale’s wife stood up in a meeting, prayed in tongues, and prophesied. Soon the gifts were flowing in several of the prayer meetings. Irving felt like this was appropriate. Board members of the church became uneasy about the whole experience, however. They did not want to allow these gifts into the Sunday service. They were afraid they would be disruptive and confusing. Those who were experiencing the gifts wanted them in the main service. A conflict was brewing.
In October 1831, a Mrs. Hall came to the front of the vestry while the service was going on and gave a word in tongues. The Board members asked Irving to not allow this on Sundays. Irving allowed the gifts, but limited to two spots in the service. No one was happy. In April the board brought a complaint before the London Presbytery. On May 2, the Presbytery decided that Irving was in violation of the order of worship for the Church of Scotland by allowing interruptions by the laity. He was removed as Pastor and then was locked out of the church. The Scottish Church in Annan, which had ordained him, was approached by the London Presbytery. They held a hearing on his teaching of Jesus being of human flesh and declared him a heretic. They removed his ordination and all relationship was cut. The church members aligned themselves with the Catholic Apostolic church started by Henry Drummond in 1832. This was now, essentially, an independent church whose emphasis was the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
800 of the church members joined Irving at a new building on Newman Street. Trying to emulate the early church era, they created a church government with apostles, prophets, elders, evangelists, and deacons. Irving, as pastor, did not have an official governmental role. A problem arose as the prophets, in their elevated role over Irving in the government, began to run things. Irving, believing that he had not received this gift, followed their every direction. He was told not to preach until his re-ordination in 1833. During a service there were up to 60 people on the platform “giving utterances”. Some of these “utterances” declared that he was a worker for the enemy. The church was, essentially, now out of his hands. Many people who had been his supporters became disillusioned, left the church, and became his critics. Mr. Baxter, who had been considered a significant prophet, recanted when what he was prophesying did not come to pass. The church, without strong leadership or mature guidance, was shifting with the winds of every perceived direction.
Irving went on a speaking tour through Scotland, but was having health problems. His doctors recommended rest and warm weather, but he pushed on because he had been told by prophets in the church that he was to start a work in Scotland. He died in 1834 at the age of 42. The fact that Jesus did not return in 1864, as he predicted, further tarnished his reputation. The most complete writings about Irving are found in “The Life of Edward Irving” by Mrs. Oliphant. This 627 page volume was published in1862 and extensively used Irving’s journals, letters, and other personal writings supplied by those closest to him.
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