Edward Irving was a Scottish pastor with a brilliant mind and a big heart. His close friend Thomas Carlyle first met Edward in 1808. Later he wrote a long account of their friendship, and declared "Irving was as the sun in my firmament. His talk was so genial, cordial, free flowing, beautiful and delightful to me; all my meetings with him stand out still as sunlight. A man of noble faculties and qualities; the noblest, largest, brotherliest man I have met with in my life's journey."
The great preacher, Dr. Thomas Chalmers made Edward his assistant in Glasgow. As a preacher, Edward lacked conviction and tended to show off his knowledge, but in pastoral visits, he excelled. He showed deep love for the humblest parishioners, visiting their homes, holding their sick babies in his arms, and giving most of his income to help the poor.
In 1822 Edward accepted a dying church in London. He was thirty. Within a few months it had grown from fifty people to over a thousand. Church leaders decided they must build bigger. High government officials attended the new church at Regent Square. Edward Irving was one of the most popular men in London.
Ten years later, his own church elders ordered him to appear for a trial that began on April 26, 1832. They expelled Edward from the church he had built. By this day, May 3, 1832, his church leaders had made their decision to bar him from entering the Regent Square building. When he showed up for Friday prayer the next morning, he could not enter. What had gone wrong?
Reading Carlyle's account one gathers that Edward and his associates took great pride in their knowledge and mocked those who were not as smart. Even Edward, full of love for others though he was, was not free from this. His popularity in London went to his head. A reader of heroic stories as a youth, he wanted to be a mighty man. Simply put, it seems that Edward was proud and wanted glory.
In 1830, the Scottish church declared Edward's views of Christ to be heresy. Edward said that although Christ never sinned, he had a sinful nature. Only the Holy Spirit kept him from sin. (In 1833, the Scots stripped him of his ordination).
In keeping with his teaching on Christ, Edward came to place more and more emphasis on the Holy Spirit. Because Christ was saved from sinning by the Spirit, so could we be, he said. The end of the world was near and the Spirit was about to be poured out, with spiritual manifestations such as prophecy and speaking in unknown tongues. He was convinced that missionaries should go out in faith without raising support or learning the necessary languages. Since sickness in his view was caused by Satan or came as the punishment of God, prayer alone could avail against it. Although he allowed doctors to visit his three boys during illnesses (all three died), he suspected that he had offended God in doing so.
The uncontrolled ravings of "prophets" that he allowed in his sanctuary deeply offended many in his orderly Presbyterian congregation. When Edward refused to restrict their utterances, his elders ousted him. About 800 people followed him to a rented hall. However, the prophets lorded it over him. He felt he had to obey them since he had never received their "divine" gifts. Even when his associates began to withdraw or to reveal that they had been misled or had deliberately perpetrated hoaxes, Edward clung to his mistaken notions about their spiritual gifts.
He contracted tuberculosis. Almost to the end he was sure God would miraculously heal him and vindicate him, filling him with marvelous powers. Instead, he died at the age of forty-two, reciting the twenty third Psalm in Hebrew.
- Carlyle, Thomas. Reminiscences. (New York: Scribner's 1881).
- Dallimore, Arnold. Forerunner of the Charismatic Movement; the life of Edward Irving. Moody Bible Institute, 1983.
- "Edward Irving." Significant Scots. http://www.electricscotland.com/history/other/ irving_edward.htm.
- "Irving, Edward." Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911.
- "Irving, Edward." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
- Various internet articles.
Last updated July, 2007