II.E.2 Trials of Edward Irving and Lessons Learned on Spiritual Delusion

Part II  –  Application to Reformed & Evangelical Theology

 Subpart E  –  Presbyterian Pentecost in Scotland/ England


 (Continued from Article 1 – Events in Scotland & the Heresy of Edward Irving)

 1.  Trial of Edward Irving by the London Presbytery

2.  Trial of Edward Irving by Presbytery in Scotland

3.  Events Following Irving’s Expulsion

4.  The Catholic Apostolic Church

5.   Lessons Learned


1.  Trial of Edward Irving by the London Presbytery

a.  Issues

The trial of Edward Irving can be viewed as an indictment as well against of the trustees, the eldership, the deacons, and the laity of the Regent Square Church, who (in December of 1830) had vindicated Irving against the London Presbytery that had ruled Irving’s doctrine heretical.  Only when  the manifestations of tongues and prophecy began to appear in the church, and only when Irving stood firm in allowing these manifestations (against the will of the trustees and eldership) did they take exception and petition the Presbytery for a trial.  By then, their case was weak, and their principles blemished.

Incredibly, their first petition to the Presbytery included the following verbage:

  . . until the adoption of the proceedings on the part of Mr. Irving now                         complained of, he had uniformily conformed to the doctrines of the established Church of Scotland.

However, the Presbytery rightly rejected this assertion of the petition due to their previously-having ruled Irving a heretic only to be contradicted by the Regent Square Church.  The church was forced to amend its petition to remove this point; after which, a trial was held on April 26-27 of 1832, charging that Irving had violated the trust-deed of the Regent Square Church by (to the effect):

1)       allowing interruption of services by persons that were not licensed ministers,

2)       encouraging females to speak and to interrupt worship services,

3)       permitting the exercise of supposed-gifts by persons claming to be so-endowed.

The issue as to whether Irving was promoting heretical-doctrine was not even at issue.  Therefore, in order to put an end to the ministry of a notarious-heretic, the Presbytery was now placed in the position of having to rule against the exercise of spiritual-gifts in the church, which they were more-than-willing to do!   For let us not forget – not only was the decision of the Presbytery unanimous against the program of allowing Pentecostal-manifestations to occur at Regent Square, it is noteworthy that each of the Presbyters expressly-affirmed a cessationistic-philosophy; most ascribing that philosphy as funamental to the Presbyterian belief-system.  This occurred despite the fact that the Presbytery had expressly-indicated the issue of doctrine not to be before them.

          b.  Testimony & Argument

The trial began on April 26, 1832 before a full-audience of the Scotch Church in London and began with one of Irving’s paritioners (Edward Taplin) delivering a message in tongues and then condemning the proceedings in English as held merely under the personal-authority of the Presbyters.  While Irving and his attorney, John Cardale attempted to argue their case from the standpoint of Scripture, they were overruled on the grounds that the issue was not whether Irving was justified by Scripture, but whether he had violated the terms by which he held his ministry-for-life over the Regent Square Church.

Three witnesses were presented the first day:

i.    Duncan McKenzie acknowledged that nobody in the congregation had                               ever objected to any of the doctrines taught by Irving.

ii.   Edward Taplin (a gifted-parisioner) was questioned as to his personal experiences in operating under the influences of the spirit in tongues and prophecy.

iii.  David Ker (a deacon of the church) acknowledged that he had heard a statement that followed the speaking in tongues to the effect that the Lord’s flesh was formed of corrupt humanity.

On the second day, Irving gave a four-hour speech in his defense, beginning by maintaining that the Presbytery was rather putting on trial the Baptizer with the Holy Spirit.  They were sitting in judgment of Pentecost.  After discoursing on the baptism of the Holy Spirit, tongues, and prophecy, he argued that he had not violated the trust deed in that its terms gave discretion to the minister as to how to administer worship services.  Therefore (Irving argued) the Presbytery would have to prove that prophesying is contrary to the constitution of the Church of Scotland, which it could not do.[1]   As to the charges of allowing interuption, the interuptions he allowed were not those of unauthorized-persons, but of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore they would have to show that the Holy Spirit was not the One speaking in these utterances.

Irving then posed to the Presbytery a poignent-dilemma for them.  He told them that they must judge based upon the testimony, and since the testimony was not contradicted that this was the work of the Holy Spirit, there could be no other verdict but “not guilty”.  If they chose as Christian men to reject the only proper ruling on the evidence, then he foretold the withering-away of the church:

I tell you, you shall be withered as a church – I tell you the waters in your cisterns shall be dried up – I tell you, you shall have no pasture for your flocks – I tell you, your flocks shall pine away and die. [2]

The trustees’ argument was given by Mr. Mann, who argued that if Mr. Irving were an honest man, he would have separated himself from the Church of Scotland given his claim that he had already separated from her in spirit.  He argued that since Mr. Taplin had admitted to being deluded on one occasion, it was reasonable he may have deluded in all occasions when he supposedly spoke under the power of the Spirit.  He argued that the Presbytery was not to be judges of doctrine, but to maintain the order and discipline of the Church of Scotland, and that it would be robbery to take the church away from those people who built it to give it to others.   He denied any sectarian feelings, stating that if Irving and his flock depart, it would be with their blessing.  The meeting was then adjourned.

After adjourning on April 27th, the trial reconvened on May 2nd and Irving was allowed to argue his defense a second-time given he had no avenue of appeal.  He asserted that the proceedings absolutely were a matter of doctrine, and particularly:

. . . whether the beginning of the latter-day glory shall be quenched, or whether it shall be permitted to arise in the Church of Scotland, the Church of England, and the Church of Christ.  It was because I clearly foresee that if you, as a Presbytery, shal decide on any ground earthly, that the voice of God, speaking in His church, shall be quenced, the end of it will be heavy judgments of the Lord, upon all concerned in the opposition to his work; yea, upon the church itself, if the church should take part in  these proceedings, and not solemnly protest against them, and wash her hands of them altogether.

            c.  Ruling

In rendering its ruling, the Presbytery stated in the record its belief that the divine gifts were no longer applicable to the church, thus affirmatively and unanimously asserting a cessationistic-position.  This was expressed by its first-speaker, Dr. Crombie, who stated that  the volume of revelation was closed and that there was a judgment on any who would add to it.  He added that true prayer (as the offering up of our desires to God) could not be performed by unintelligible-“tongues”.

The second speaker (Mr. Miller) agreed that “nothing, at any time, is to be added” to Scripture.  The third speaker (Mr. McLean) cited to the Directory of Public Worship for the rule that the extraordinary offices of apostle, evangelist, and prophet had ceased to exist.  The fourth speaker (Mr. MacDonald) agreed with the former speakers, adding that “the matter itself is a delusion”.  The three remaing members lodged their agreement.

The moderator then arose and called the experience at Regent Square; “a strong and mournful delusion” sweeping many into error.  He called Irving; “a simple-minded deceived man”.  He stated his opinion that emphasis upon the supernatural giftings led men from spiritual to carnal; depending upon their ears and eyes for things that should be received internally and spiritually.

The day after Irving’s trial found the newspapers proclaiming high-accolades for the Presbytery.  Irving and his followers were roundly-mocked and condemned.  The Times referred to the events at Regent Square as “fooleries”, and “tongues from the band of Mr. Irving’s select performers”; “. . . hideous interludes of the unknown tongues.”  Curiously however, the media did not denounce him for his heretical-doctrine concerning the incarnation of Christ!

2.  Trial of Edward Irving by Presbytery in Scotland

Irving became increasingly-caustic in his denunciations of the Church of Scotland, declaring it to be his avowed enemy and the; “synagogue of Satan” and calling upon men to “come out of that Babylon”.  This naturally caused an increase in hostility, and it was decided that the Presbytery at Annan that had ordained Irving should place him on trial as well.  This trial was held on March 13, 1833 and lasted seven hours before a full-audience of 2,000 persons.

Irving continued-defiant in maintaining his heretical-views in the face of questioning by his own presbytery.  When it came time for the panel to speak, Dr. Duncan’s words were particularly-well-spoken.  He began by stating he had been a friend and admirer of Irving for many years, but must conclude with sorrow that his mind has become alienated from the truth.  His prayer was that Mr. Irving would be delivered in the same way that one of his followers, Robert Baxter, had been delivered.  He described how Baxter had been deluded by impressions and voices until he learned of Irving’s heretical-doctrine.  This had caused him to come into a crisis that allowed light to break into his mind and to perceive how terribly he had been led astray.  He then published a pamphlet recanting his experience as a delusion.  Irving-biographer, Gordon Strachan produces Dr. Duncan’s words as follows:

Dr. Duncan explained that Christ was always excepted from the terms “fallen” and “sinful nature”.  These terms only applied to those descended from Adam by “ordinary generation”.  Jesus was miraculously conceived.   . . . The Son of God did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man’s nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin.  Sin was not an essential property of man’s nature as he said Irving had tried to make out, but was an accident which did not belong to man in his perfect state in Paradise.  He said that the next clause in the Confession confirmed this where, after saying that Christ was “without sin, being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the virgin Mary”, it said “So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures – Godhead and the Manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion.”  It was clear to Dr. Duncan that “the word “perfect” as applied to the humanity, being evidently used here to intimate that, as a man, he was not fallen and sinful”.  He said that both Scripture and Church standards taught that Christ was free from original sin.  Had this been otherwise He could not have been the Redeemer.[3]

The Presbytery having spoken, Irving made his common-objection that he had been taken out of context.  He then said that they would call down the wrath of God upon their own heads if they were to pass sentence upon him.

Before passing sentence, one of the Presbyters, Mr. Sloan was asked to pray.  It was now after 7:00 p.m., and had become dark.  Before he began, a voice rang out from the gallery.   It was a Mr. Dow  (a minister-friend of Irving) speaking loudly as in a prophecy:

Arise, depart!  –  Arise, depart!  Flee ye out; flee ye out of here.    Ye cannot pray.  How can ye pray?  How can ye pray to Christ, whom ye deny?  Ye cannot pray.  Depart, – depart, flee, – flee!

Gordon Strachan writes:

Confusion was growing.  Mr. Dow rose to leave.  Irving rose to follow.  The crowd was so dense in the church that their passage was obstructed.  Irving shouted “Stand forth!  Stand forth!  What!  Will ye not obey the voice of the Holy Ghost!  As many as will obey the Holy Ghost, let them depart!”  The crowd parted.  He strode to the door.  Just before he reached it he exclaimed “Prayer, indeed!  Oh!”  He was followed by several friends. [4]

3.  Events Following Irving’s Expulsion

After preaching along the coast, Irving returned to London, where he was ordained “angel” and “pastor” of his new church on April 5th.  His youngest son, Ebenezer died on April 23rd.[5]

Irving left Regent Square with about 800 followers and that summer they opened a church on Newman Street (commonly referred-to as the; “Newman St. Church”).[6]   His attorney, John Cardale was appointed “First Apostle” and a strangely-arranged platform and pulpit was erected displaying the authority-structure of the church, having 6 levels; 1) (top) apostles, 2) prophets, 3) elders, 4) evangelists, 5) deacons, and finally, one for the “angel”, reserved for Irving.  Irving began to stress “bodily-healing” as Christ “came in the power of the Spirit to heal”.   However, Irving was heavily-restricted by his “prophets” to whom he dutifully-submitted, and seemed to even fear as the “voice of God”.  Because of the strictures and censure he faced at Newman Street, he would often choose to preach in parks & out-of-doors.

The stress of these times seemed to take a heavy physical-toll on Irving and he became weak and emaciated in the months that followed.  His close personal friend, Thomas Carlyle, describes a  chance-meeting with Irving while walking in the park in May of 1834.  Carlyle was shocked by his friend’s dramatic physical-decline in only two years since he had last seen him.

. . . he had suddenly become an old man.  His head, which I had left raven-black, was grown grey, on the temples almost snow-white; the face was hollow, wrinkly, and collapsed; the figure, still perfectly erect, seem to have lost all its elasticity and strength.  We walked some space slowly together, my heart smitten with various emotions; my speech, however, striving to be cheery and hopeful . . . He admitted his weak health, but treated it as temporary . . . His tone was not despondent, but was low, pensive, full of     silent sorrow.  Once, perhaps twice, I got a small bit of Annadale laughter from him, strangely genuine, though so lamed and overclouded.

Carlyle further writes after a dinner-visit a few weeks later in the Irving-home:

I went away gratified; and, for my share, glad, had not the outlooks on his side been so dubious and ominous.  He was evidently growing weaker, not stronger, wearing himself down, as to me seemed too clear, by spiritual agitations which would kill him, unless checked and ended. 

Irving carried the hope of a prophecy that had been declared by Robert Baxter (before his defection) that Irving would return to Scotland for a great work.  When one of the Newman Street “prophets” declared that Irving must go to Glasgow, his hope revived that God would heal him and impart to him the charismatic-gifts that he never himself had received.   He departed London for Glasgow in September of 1834, circling through Wales.   In order to travel independently he had purchased a horse which he soon found onerous to ride because of his sickness.  His biographer, Arnold Dallimore writes:

Irving’s letters to his wife cannot but evoke in the reader an almost tearful sympathy.  He speaks of enduring sleeplessness by night and deep weariness by day, together with very frequent suffering and the burning sensations of his fever.  His theory of sickness as either the affliction of Satan or the judgment of God must also have  burdened his mind, but of this he says nothing at this time and his letters bespeak a quiet submission to his circumstances.  Moreover, notwithstanding his trials, he still maintained his hope.  He waited for that moment when it would please the Lord to heal him and grant him the gifts, and his faith in this outcome knew no slackening.   Nevertheless, his hope continued to be unfulfilled.  As he came to the close of six weeks’ travel in Waleshe was so weak he was all but unaware of things around him and he could barely keep himself erect in the saddle.  [7]

His wife was forced to meet him in Liverpool due his increasing weakness.  In Glasgow, he was forced to preach while sitting in a chair and with feeble voice.  As his sickness worsened his extended-family traveled to Glasgow upon the understanding that he was dying.  He passed away in Glasgow on December 7, 1834.

4.  The Catholic Apostolic Church

After Irving’s death, the church he left on Newman Street entered into a period of intense organization and its name was changed to the Catholic Apostolic Church the following year.  The church had its governance under twelve apostles; six of whom had been selected by prophecy during Irving’s lifetime, and six that had been added after his death.  Their names were; John Cardale (Irving’s lawyer), Henry Drummond (wealthy publisher of The Morning Watch), Henry King-Church, Spencer Perceval, Nicholas Armstrong, Francis Woodhouse, Henry Dalton, John Tudor, Thomas Carlyle, Francis Sitwell, William Dow, and Duncan MacKenzie.  They maintained their apostolic college at Drummond’s Albury estate.  They appealed to the Church of England, the Pope, and kingdoms throughout Europe that they be recognized as the restoration of the apostolic-authority and be submitted-thereto in order to hasten the return of Christ.  Each of the twelve were given charge over a particular region of the globe.

The church became much-occupied with hyper-legalities, intensive-organization, and a preoccupation with numbers.  For instance, the central episcopy numbered 48 given the 48 boards of the Mosaic-tabernacle.  All aspects of the church buildings and internal structure were based upon numbers taken from Scipture.  For instance an elder was supposed to have authority of 500 persons and a church was to have 3,000 members based upon corresponding numbers in the book of Acts.  Church buildings were required to have a layout corresponding to the three divisions of the Mosaic tabernacle of the congregation.

When three of the “apostles” died In 1855,  the church was forced to decide upon whether new apostles could be ordained.  The answer came in the negative, and given it was the exclusive-role of the apostles to ordain its ministers, the church faded into near-extinction upon the death of the last “apostle”, Francis Woodhouse on February 3, 1901 even as the Holy Spirit was being poured out in Topeka, Kansas to inaugurate the return of Pentecost.

 5.   Lessons Learned

             a.  Edward Irving

 If the church is to receive the power and presence of God today, she must remember and benefit from the experiences that went before.  We are to take warning in the examples from the past.  They are part of our heritage before God given us for our benefit that we may profit rather than suffer harm when He draws near.  We are to discern the signs around us and take warning from the experiences of those that went before.  We are to “discern the signs of the times”.[8]  Although it was more than 150 years ago that Scotland turned this page in history, the history remains for our careful reflecting-upon.

There is a comparison that can be made between the Scottish/English Pentecostal Resurgance and the Quaker-movement of the seventheenth-century.   In the Quaker-movement, we hear of ecstatic and even supernatural-phenomenon that seemed to travel alongside vague or erroneous teaching; the consequence of which, seems to have been to confuse and to dampen its witness if not rendering it false.  At a minimum, the work of God was undermined in the Quaker-message.  A similar and even more severe dynamic would seem to be what occurred within the Scottish/English resurgence of Pentecost given the open apostasy that terminated that movement.

The example of Edward Irving should convey to us something of the bitterness of false teaching particularly in the midst of a genuine movement of God’s Spirit.  Something was happening in Scotland that was truly-momentus!  It seemed that God was beginning to restore the Pentecostal experience and doctrines to the church!   As we addressed in the last subpart of this treatise,[9] Pentecost was that principle early-Methodism had struggled-with for many years without locking-down in terms doctrine.  Perhaps the task may have been more suitable for the Calvinist-Methodists (such as George Whitefield) who emphasized principles of calling and election.[10]   Pentecost  seems to be a principle profoundly-related to God’s purposes in “calling and election”[11] which we associate theologically-speaking with Calvinism.  However, what was lacking in the Methodist theology began to faintly-materialize within Scottish Presbyterianism at about the time the first incidences of Spirit-baptism began to occur.  This occurred when a few of its ministers began to make distinction between initial regeneration and the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Why should it matter that such a doctrinal-distinction be made?  The answer lies in rightly-receiving the things of God – and we must be rightly-oriented to God’s ways in preparation for the judgment that follows the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost.   The Gospel is itself doctrine.  To enter the kingdom of God is the objective of the preaching of the Gospel and is therefore attendant upon true doctrine.   Experience is not to be separated from doctrinal-truth.  When experience is disconnected from doctrine, experience becomes untrustworthy, unknowable, erratic.  Like a pilot flying into a cloud without instrumentation we can no longer discern our bearings, our aspect, or even whether we are rightsideup.  This is what occurs when spiritual-experience is disconnected from doctrinal-truth.   In this condition man loses connection with the “anchor of his soul”[12] and becomes a spiritual prey.

As the Pentecostal doctrine making distinction between initial regeneration and the baptism of the Holy Spirit was introduced by a few ministers in Scotland, the baptism of the Holy Spirit began to be sought-for and received – most notably by young people of the common class – some of the most remarkable examples of which happened to be invalids on their deathbeds.  But when this experience was investigated and sought out by the London upper-class within-whom Irving had recently achieved status, it seems to have been held under a different mixture of intentions.

The true Gospel bears its fruit in the poor and infirm of this world:

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.                                                                                     Matt. 5:3 

 “the blind receive sight & the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed & the deaf hear,  & the dead are raised up, & the poor have the gospel preached to them.”                                                                                     Matt. 11:5

The Gospel-hope made alive  to the poor and infirm through the baptism of the Holy Spirit seems to have been entertained as a novelty in London.  While God is willing (as the prophet Joel says) to “pour out His Spirit upon all flesh” there is nonetheless a great taxing of truth that occurs  when His Spirit is received by those that are not “poor in Spirit”.  In Irving’s case it seems he may have used the Pentecostal-manifestations as a personal-vindication of his own ministry and controversial teachings!  In fact a true analysis of his errors might be abbreviated by the simple word- “pride”.  This is the reason for the apostolic warning against placing the young into ministry:

Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.                                                                                      I Tim. 3:6

Irving’s natural-talents brought the high-regard of men.  This placed him in a spiritually-vulnerable circumstance wherein his opinion of himself climbed along with his elevation by others.  In his immaturity he could not perceive that he was trusting in flesh; human strength and human eloquence.  Those who trust in flesh occupy a position of abhorrence before God:

Thus saith the LORD; “Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm and whose heart departeth from the LORD.                      Jer 17:5 

Therefore when Irving was engaged by an agent of antichrist having superior gifts than his own, he bowed at his feet to (as Chalmers observed); “drink-in. . . German-mysticism and transcendental lake poetry”.   Not only did his tremendous natural-gifts render him vulnerable to the sin of pride in the midst of a work of the Spirit, but they exposed him to apostasy from the Gospel as well.

One unique and insidious aspect of pride is that it is a difficult-fault to turn back from.  To turn-back contemplates an admission of being wrong and having been in some way foolish or derelict.  The proud person cannot do this without being humbled first.  Having achieved celebrity-status in London as an acclaimed-orator and theological-prodigy Irving’s inclination upon being challenged in his doctrine was (rather than to resort to Scripture) to immediately put up a defense and to fasten himself more securely to the objectionable-doctrine.   As time accrued and doctrinal-confrontations grew more personal the prospect of denying his own false teaching must have seemed a denial of his own self and an effacing of the glorious public persona he had worked so hard to create.  This is the dynamic that seems to have been playing when he appeared before the trustees in London and before the ecclesiastical authorities of the Church of Scotland, until finally being told by prophetic-utterance-itself to depart as a denier of Christ.

b.  Regent Square Church, London

The experience of Pentecost was sought by Londoners, particularly those of the Regents Square Church whose minister defied convention in giving his endorsement to the supernatural-aspects of God’s work.  With this encouragement certain key members actively sought to embrace the new move of God which they were hearing was occurring in Scotland.  They even seemed to apprehend the return of the giftings and offices as a sign of the Lord’s coming.

The few prophecies that are recorded from that time convey this as well – such as when Mrs. Cardale became the first of many others that began to speak in tongues.  Her first experience with tongues was followed by the interpretation; “The Lord will speak to His people!  The Lord hasteneth His coming!”  From then on many began to exercise divine-gifts privately in their homes within an expectant atmosphere.  The prospect of the Lord’s coming and His presence meant this was a time to prepare the way.  The Lord’s way is prepared via a true testimony concerning the Person and work of Jesus Christ by the church. Yet there seemed to have been a problem as some months later, Mr. Taplin shouted loudly in tongues and the interpretation followed; “Why will ye flee from the voice of God?  The Lord is in the midst of you.  Why will ye flee from His voice?  Ye cannot flee from it in the day judgment!” 

Judgment?  How could something so glorious as the return of the divine-presence in the church come with such a negative proposition?  But is this not what God’s true prophet foretells?[13]  When John preached that Christ would baptize us “with the Holy Ghost and with fire”, he was preaching Pentecost!  But the true-preaching of Pentecost contemplates the true preaching that Christ will “thoroughly purge His floor” (ie. “Judgment”!)

While the principle behind God pouring out His Holy Spirit upon all flesh is absolutely a vital one of God’s love for humanity it is not a proposition that can stand alone and still constitute the Gospel message.  The purpose of God pouring out His Spirit is that He may bring the knowledge of Himself to humanity – something that does not occur without the full gospel of judgment being preached that accounts for the wrath of God that is to be poured out upon sin.   While the Regent Square Church was certainly entertaining the former-message, it was not entertaining the latter, and the Spirit of prophecy was warning them of that day of judgment they were forgetting and for which they were not preparing nor warning others to prepare for.

In finding fault with the Regent Square Church we must bear in mind that we are dealing with a substantially mixed-entity.   There is the “church” in terms of its organizational structure which might consist of members along a spectrum of having great-regard to having no-regard for spiritual-matters.  These are those generally more privy to information and vested with the power to act.  By far the greater part is made up of the general membership which may or may not stand privy to information, have much less power to act, or may have little personal-insight or discernment of spiritual things.  The spiritual-mind will recognize we are speaking of a sheep/goat mixture known only by God. That being acknowledged we can reflect upon the mistakes.

There was a definite element of the diabolical involved in what occurred at Regent Square and for which the church stood to come into particular judgment; their harboring of an exposed-heretic.  Irving should have been severed from his duties at least as early as 1827[14] when he was known to have preached error concerning the incarnation.  When this was not addressed and rectified by his own trustees, a clergyman from another church was obliged to look into the matter (albeit several months after first having heard the report).  When once it became an open-matter that their minister was engaged in heretical-teaching the expected response of; investigation, outrage, and action was rather just the opposite.  They did nothing.  When the trustees of the London Presbytery took formal action and ruled Irving to be a heretic the Regent Square trustees issued their own vindication of Irving, as if perhaps under the opinion that the business of the Scottish church was being wrongly pried-into.  Therefore while it should have been with shamed-face that they brought their petition when finally seeking the London Presbytery’s help to remove Irving, they continued to overlook their own wrongdoing by submitting a petition reading that:

. . until the adoption of the proceedings on the part of Mr. Irving now complained of, he had uniformily conformed to the doctrines of the established Church of Scotland.

Of course the London trustees would not entertain such unabashed language in light of their already having ruled Irving to be a heretic and would not entertain the petition until this wording was changed.

In finally bringing action against Irving Regent Square was not even able to bring itself to disavow itself of the heresy its trustees and eldership had overlooked and which they had even protected for an unknown number of years.  Their issue with Irving was rather related to his tolerance of the spiritual-manifestations and the operation of gifts.  They pretended to have clean hands all the way to the end when they might have layed up for themselves some degree of absolution by acknowledging their great error.  By so doing they did harm to the consciences of those of their membership having less empowerment to act than did they.

c.  London Presbytery

The London Presbytery on the other hand seems to have overreached into spiritual matters that by their own acknowledgment  was not their jurisdiction.  In unanimously affirming a cessationistic-posture they damaged the cause of Presbyterianism immensely in terms of its role in the apostolic restoration of God’s kingdom.  Since that event, Edward Irving is commonly held up by cessastionists[15] as an example of the dangers of charismatic-beliefs.  Strangely, most of the modern-criticisms of Irving do not focus upon the real tragedy of his theology, which was his heretical-view concerning the humanity of Christ.   The common practice of his critics has been to use his heretical-teaching on the subject of Christ’s-human-nature as the hammer to bludgeon the doctrine of Pentecost and to cast aspersion upon the legitemate work of God’s Spirit today.  However, these critics might consider the writings of Jonathan Edwards (a self-stated-cessationist), who warned- against this kind of reasoning.

Edwards presided over revivals that included intense ecstatic-phenomenon.  He argued that errors in judgment and even delusions of Satan are no evidence that a work (in general) is not of the Spirit of God.[16]   He further argued that gross errors and scandals do not argue against a work being of God.  He writes:

If some,who were thought to be wrought upon, fall away into gross errors or scandalous practices, it is no argument that the work in general is not the work of the Spirit of God.  That there are some counterfeits is no argument that nothing is true; such things are always expected at a time of reformation. If we look into church history, we shall find no instance of any great revival of religion, but what has been attended with many such things.  Instances of this nature in the apostles’ days were innumerable; some fell away into gross heresies, or others into vile practices, though they seemed to be the subjects of a work of the Spirit . . .[17]

He uses the esteemed-deacon “Nicholas of Antioch” as an example:

There were some instances then of such apostates, as were esteemed eminently full of the grace of God’s Spirit.  An instance of this nature probably was Nicholas, one of the seven deacons, who was looked upon by the Christians in Jerusalem, in the time of that extraordinary pouring out of the Spirit, as a man full of the Holy Ghost, and was chosen out of the multitudes of Christians to that office, for that reason; as you may see in Acts vi. 3, 5; yet he afterwards fell away and became the head of a sect of vile heretics, of gross practices, called from his name the sect of the Nicolaitans (Rev. ii. 6 & 15)

Yet, in contradiction to this principle, Irving has been used by cessationists following a reasoning that because a known-heretic advanced the doctrines of Pentecost and the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit, therefore the teaching that Pentecost and the divine-gifts have modern-application is itself false teaching.  But reason demands that a doctrine must stand or fall based upon its own consistency with Scripture, and not because it was once advocated by any teacher (true or false) or even because a particular group suffered delusion or negative outcome that once embraced the gifts.

Cessationists today attribute the delusion that occurred at Newman Street and in the Catholic Apostolic Church to their foolishly having accepted charismatic-teaching and experience.   However, this argument misses the fact that the participants at Newman Street and the membership of the Catholic Apostolic Church allowed themselves to be led by a man that continued unapologetically within his heretical teachings.   Therefore the real-question is; what allowed the influences of deluding spirits?  Was it Pentecostal-theology, or was it the indulgence of heretical-views concerning the nature of Christ?  The answer would seem obvious, and yet those rejecting the charismatic-giftings as valid for today fail to acknowledge the real-cause of spiritual-delusion which is to follow after a lie concerning the Person or work of Jesus Christ.

d.  Newman Street Church

It is difficult to make much of a case at all for the Newman Street Church, of which virtually nothing is on record concerning their own struggles for the cause of truth in the matter.    Irving’s error was not something hidden-away, but something that had been exposed – all England and Scotland were aware!  It was Henry Drummond’s magazine (one of the Newman Street “apostles”) that even ran articles for Irving allowing him to defend his heretical views!

After the Scotch Church went through the agony of three public trials to depose Irving, he was then ceremoniously re-ordained as the “angel” at Newman Street!  And there is little (in the historical record) to indicate that the  “apostles” and “prophets” at Newman Street troubled their minds on the issue of his heritical-teaching prior to their re-ordination of the recently-defrocked.

Certainly if any of the circumstances in this sad-history constituted an example of spiritual-delusion it would have to be that gathering at Newman Street.  These had followed Irving for too long, had become too identified with his ministry, too attached to his persona, too cemented within his views of spiritual-things, and to invested in their  own personalities to tear themselves away.  Indeed, the experience of Robert Baxter who was able to tear himself away at an earlier-stage of the process (upon ascertaining the matter) had been painfulfully bitter, although it seems that ultimately he found comfort in the Truth.

For Newman Street to exist safely witthin its delusion now required a sense of movement, activity, and purpose that was met through organization, building, evangelizing, and all those things that keep alive a hope falsely-entertained.   Abandoned by the Spirit of God, Newman Street developed into the Catholic Apostolic Church, took on greater enterprises, and began to branch itself out into other parts of the world – driven by the hope of recovering something lost – something to fill a vacancy that had been left that should have been filled by the kingdom of God.

[1] The Pentecostal Theology of Edward Irving, by Gordon Strachan © 1973, Hendrickson Pub. Pg 159

[2] Ibid. pg. 163

[3] Ibid. pg. 157

[4]  Ibid. pg 199

[5]Irving had been praying for weeks for his sick son, believing that his son would not be “overpowered”.

[6] Only a handful of people remained at (what was left of) the Church of Scotland.  John Cardale, who had acted as Irving’s lawyer at the ecclesiastical bar was appointed “First Apostle” of the Newman St. Church.

[7] The Life of Edward Irving, byArnold Dallimore © 1983  Banner of Truth, pg. 167

[8] Matthew 16:3

[9] Subpart D – Wesleyan Methodism; The Repairing of the Doctrine of Sanctification (this website)

[10] II Peter 1:10

[11] ie. Paul tells the Thessalonians that the presence of the power of the Holy Spirit that accompanied his preaching to them was itself evidence of their election.  (I Thess. 1:4-5)

[12] Hebrews 6:19

[13] The Lord said of John; “. . what went ye out to see?  A prophet?  Yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet.”  (Matt. 11:9).  John’s status as a true prophet certainly derived from his bearing a full witness of the truth (John5:33).

[14] In fact, his writings seem to indicate he held such beliefs as early as 1825.

[15] A cessationist believes that the miraculous manifestations of the Holy Spirit have ceased to operate in the church, and so reject that any miraculous gifts are given or signs occur in our day.

[16] “VII.  Nor are many errors in judgment, and some delusions of Satan intermixed with the work, any argument that the work in general is not of the Spirit of God . . . any more than it was an argument in Egypt, that there were no true miracles wrought there, by the hand of God because Jannes and Jambres wrought false miracles at the same time by the hand of the devil.” Marks of the True Spirit of God, by Jonathan Edwards, Banner of Truth Trust pg. 103-104

[17] The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God, by Jonathan Edwards


About Lamp-Stand

I was converted to the faith of Jesus Christ in 1982 at which time I received water baptism and Spirit baptism. In the Spring of 2008 I was led of the Spirit through a process of repentance upon which I had an encounter with Christ that worked a profound change upon my inner being. I became aware that I had been forgiven a great debt of sin. I soon felt the Lord's direction that I close my office that my energies not be divided from the study of doctrine.
This entry was posted in 2E. PRESBYTERIAN PENTECOST (Application to Reformed & Evangelical Theology) and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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