II.E.1 Events in Scotland and the Heresy of Edward Irving

Part II  –  Application to Reformed & Evangelical Theology

 Subpart E  –  Presbyterian Pentecost in Scotland/ England


a.  Methodism’s-Deficiency;  a Coherent Pentecostal Doctrine 

b.  Pentecostal-Events in Scotland

c.  Edward Irving

d.  Irving’s Heretical Doctrine Sown Within the Scottish Revival


a.  Methodism’s-Deficiency; No Coherent Pentecostal Doctrine

We see in the efforts of John Fletcher and the Wesleys to Pentecostalize Methodist-doctrine a distinct consciousness-of-inadequacy.  While perhaps the most doctrinally-pure movement of the eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries it cannot be asserted that early-Methodism measured-up doctrinally or experientially to the primitive-church.  Fletcher knew that something was missing in theory and in substanceAnd in regard to  Fletcher’s concerns, Wesley could not disagree!  Therefore Wesley signed-off on Fletcher’s re-working of his own teachings in order to allow Fletcher to interject Pentecostal-allusions in what we understand today to have been in too arbitrary of a manner.  While this certanly served to Pentecostalize Methodist-language and to give Methodism the semblance of a rounded theological-system, Fletcher’s efforts most certainly failed pneumatology as is clear from both the last two hundred years of church history and the Methodist-consciousness itself.  Winced-at by the Methodist-ministry upon its publication, Fletcher’s Checks – while not discarded – was substantially filed-away during the succeeding decades.

The next signifcant advance in terms of reconstructing the apostolic-doctrines seem to be those events that occurred in Scotland and England between 1825 and 1831 which marked a period of revival that included distinctively-Pentecostal-manifestations.  These manifestations included; speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues, prophecy, the exercise of divine-knowledge, etc.  If not the first time such an event occurred since the first-century, it was at least the first time a wide-spread and well-documented Pentecostal-like event had occurred.

Another aspect of this revival is that it did not occur in what we might consider to be a likely place.  Certainly if any denomination of the early nineteenth-century could lay claim to purity of doctrine it was Methodism who doctrines of sanctification represented a substantial step-forward toward the apostolic-standard, and whose circuit-riding ministers spread true spiritual revival throughout England and the Atlantic region of America.  Nonetheless, when the Pentecostal-baptism came it did not first appear within the most logically-inviting system.  Rather, the first documented Pentecostal-manifestations occurred within the common class of the Scottish-Presbyterian-community.  Rather than following the pattern of a new-move-of-God rising from within the old-move-of-God, this revival represented something of a parallel-thread to that of Methodism.  Recall that Wesley had rejected Pentecostal-manifestations within Methodism a few decades previous.  On top of this error, Methodism had established an incorrect-model for the integration of Pentecost.  These things considered, perhaps Methodism did not represent at this point an acceptable host for the advancement of Pentecostal truth.

b.  Pentecostal-Events in Scotland

What did not occur (or was not allowed to occur) within Methodism began to occur in Presbyterianism nearly forty years after Wesley’s death.  A revival which included the  return of distinctively-Pentecostal-signs arose and began to develop strength – but only for a very short time.  When we look at what precipitated this event, it would appear to have been the touching upon a truth (by ministers within Presbyterianism) that had been lost to the church for 1,700 years.

Upon his ordination in 1825, Scottish Presbyterian, John McLeod Campbell began preaching from his pulpit in Row on the Gareloch (near Port Glasgow) “the love of God for all men” and that men should have the knowledge of the assurance of their salvation.   This message seemed to be having an enlivening-effect upon the local citizenry.  However, there were no reported Pentecostal manifestations under Campbell’’s  preaching.   However, in the thinking of the Presbyterian authorities, Campbell’s doctrine went too far.  They judged it to be an assertion of universal atonement and (so) against the teachings of the Presybyterian Church, which had maintained the doctrine of limited atonement of Confessional Calvinism.[1]   Campbell was eventually deposed from his ministry by the Presbytry, but not before being used in a spiritual-awakening in Scotland.  This time is described by R. A. Davenport :

Prayer and worhsip, in the spirit of what seemed a recovery of the true gospel message, became the first interest of many households and groups; thousands were converted and a confidence in God was awakened in them such as they had never before experienced.  Mr. Campbell’s “new light” writes a contemporary reviewer, “created No small stir around Gareloch and all over the land.  There was an Awakening of religious life there, which got its first impulse from the Row-kirk.  Greenock, Glasgow, Edinburgh thrilled as with the gush of a fresh spring-tide. [2]

Campbell’s assistant during this time[3] was a minister by the name of Alexander Scott, who was convinced that the gifts of the Spirit were to be soon-restored to the church.[4]  Scott was  known for teaching a doctrine that we know today as being of definite Pentecostal-character.  Scott was teaching that regeneration was a separate and distinct-principle from the baptism of the Holy Ghost.[5]

In the Spring of 1828 during the course of this spiritual-awaking, a young man by the name of James MacDonald had a conversion-experience while praying alone in his house.  This was followed by a similar experience for his twin-brother George, and then by their sister, Margaret MacDonald, an invalid.  A short time later, another young man (also an invalid) by the name of James Grubb had a conversion-experience and became a gifted-evangelist from his bed and seemed to exercise spiritual-gifts until his death a short-time thereafter.  Another friend of the MacDonalds reported seeing a vision of the glory of God.  A description of this time is given by Edward Irving to whom it was being reported by one of his deacons:

There appeared about this time, in the death-bed experience of certain holy persons, very wonderful instances of the power of God’s Spirit, both in the way of discernment and utterance, and also apparent glory.  They were able to know the condition of God’s people at a distance, and to pray for the very things which they needed; they were able to search the hearts of persons in their presence; they were above measure strengthened to hold out both in prayer and exhortation.  In one instance, the countance shone with a glorious brightness, as if it had been the face of an angel;  they spake much of a bright dawn about to arise in the Church; and one of them, just before death, signified that hehad received the knowledge of the thing that was about to be manifested, but he was too far gone to give it utterance.  It came like a halo over the soul of the departing saint, to cheer him on his way; but it was not intended for communication.

In 1829 Scott’s teaching convinced  a spiritually-awakened young girl (a semi-invalid) by the name of Mary Campbell.[6]  Ms. Campbell lived only a few miles from the MacDonalds and already had some notoriety as the younger-sister of Isabella Campbell who had passed-away only two years previously at the age of twenty.  Isabella (another invalid) was reported to have received divine visitations prior to her death that had been publicized in a book written by her minister.  The Campbell-home had thereafter become a stop for many visitors having read his book and becoming intrigued over Isabella’s divine visitations.

In response to Scott’s teaching of two-distinct experiences (that of regeneration and that of baptism by the Holy Ghost) Mary became awakened-spiritually and excitedly began to seek this experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  During this time she believed that God had promised her she would receive both the gift of tongues and the gift of prophecy.  On March 30, 1830, Mary was praying for the Holy Spirit with a group of friends when (as she reports) the Holy Ghost came upon her and she began to speak in tongues.[7]  This event was publicized throughout Scotland and England.[8]

Not many days thereafter, Margaret MacDonald (the sister of James and George) became increasingly-ill and was bedridden.  During her sickness, she received the prophecy; “There will be a mighty baptism of the Spirit this day.”  This was followed by (in her sister’s words); “a most marvelous setting forth of he wonderful works of God, as if her own weakness had been altogether lost in the strength of the Holy Ghost”.  When her brothers James and George arrived home that evening, she related the matter to them, and then prayed for James that he might at that time be “endowed with the Holy Ghost”.  Their sister relates:[9]

Almost instantly, James calmly said, “I have got it”.  He walked to the window and stood silent for a minute or two.  I looked at him and almost trembled, there was such a change upon his whole countenance.  He then . . . walked up to Margaret’s bedside and addressed her in those words of the twentieth psalm, “arise and stand upright!”  He repeated the words, took her by the hand, and she arose.

James then wrote to Mary Campbell, commanding her in the name of the Lord Jesus to arise.  Ms. Campbell reports that upon reading the letter, the words came upon her with power.  She felt it to be the voice of Christ:[10]

  . . . it was such a voice as could not be resisted; a mighty power was instantaneously exerted upon me; I felt as if I had been lifted from off the earth, and all my diseases taken from off me at the voice of Christ.   I was verily made in a moment to stand upon my feet, leap and walk, sing and rejoice.

Shortly thereafter, on April 18, 1830, George MacDonald spoke in tongues, followed by James.  George was then enabled to interpret the tongues spoken by James.   These events were well documented and well-publicized along with accounts of other individuals that seemed to have been wrought-upon by God in this region of Scotland.

In this scenario we find two aspects reminiscent of what occurred in Topeka seventy years later, ie.

1)  The doctrine was accepted that there is a baptism of the Holy Spirit                              that is a distinct-concept to that of regeneration, (&)

2)  This was follwed by seeking for the experience through prayer.

c.  Edward Irving

a.  London Ministry

When these events occurred in Scotland, Edward Irving was the minister of the Regent Square Church in London, having assumed the pastorate of The Calcedonian Chapel in 1822.  He had formerly been assistant to Dr. Thomas Chalmers of the Scotch Church in Edinburgh.  Since arriving in London he had won substantial notoriety as a phenomenally-gifted speaker.  His church (which started small) was unable to accommodate the large crowds consisting  of the affluent and powerful of London.  After it became apparent that there was a greater interest in Irving’s preaching than the small  church could accommodate,  a new building was constructed in Regent Square capable of seating over 1,800 for each service.

b.  His Doctrine

i.   Influence of Samuel Coleridge

Irving is described by those who knew him best as having all the best physical, mental, and moral qualities.  He was also an extremely articulate and passionate minister.  If there is anything that can be said disparaging of the man, it might lay in the area of discretion.  While in his capacity as a prominent Presbyterian minister, Irving had developed a close personal-relationship with the famous poet-philosopher, Samuel Coleridge.  Coleridge was a celebrated genius who suffered from depression and possibly a serious mental-disorder.  His famous poem Kubla Kahn was written (by his own admission) during an opium dream.

Coleridge seems to have had some fascination-with the Christian gospel.  He sometimes made a Christian-profession and yet was also a student of German transcendentalism.  For instance, in 1798 he conducted divine-services at Taunton’s Mary Street Unitarian Chapel in-place of its pastor, who had suffered a family-tragedy.   However, later in the same year he traveled to Germany where he became a student of Immanuel Kant’s humanistic-philosophies.  After his return to England, his unstable personality and increasing opium-addiction led to health problems, alienation from friends, marital separation, and finally a commitment to a doctor’s-home in 1817 where he remained until his death in 1834 from possible complications of opium-addiction.  Coleridge was considered a true intellectual-giant in his time, but never an orthodox Christian.

After the young-Irving came to London from Glasgow, Coleridge followed the crowd of London elite to attended some of his sermons.  Upon hearing Irving he lauded him as one of the greatest preachers then-alive –  comparing him with the reformers.   Flattered, Irving began visiting Coleridge privately and (according to Chalmers, who accompanied him on one visit) would “drink-in”; “German-mysticism and transcendental lake poetry”.[11]   Irving (shortly-thereafter) in publishing a pamphlet charging the modern church as deficient to that of the first century, included within his exhortation a curious-dedication to Samuel Coleridge in which he states:

. . . you have been more profitable to my faith in orthodox doctrine, to my spiritual understanding of the Word of God, and to my right conception of the Christian Church, than any or all the men with whom I have entertained friendship.”

He praises the poet’s intelligence as a teacher and offers the pamphlet as;

“. . . the first fruits of my mind since it received a new impulse toward truth, and a new insight into its depths from listening to your discourse.”

Such dedication of a Christian-treatise to a philosopher like Coleridge would seem unthinkable, and it earned Irving much criticism.  Yet Irving did not seem to hide the fact that he was imbibing philosophy from a non-orthodox and arguably antichristian-source.

                        ii.   Interest in Apocalyptic Prophecy

In 1824 Irving came under the influence of a teacher of apocalyptic-theology by the name of Hatley Frere.  Irving became fascinated by Frere’s interpretations of the books of Daniel and Revelation and Frere’s conclusion that Christ’s return was but a few years coming.  We can gather a sense of Irving’s reverence for Frere’s interpretations of apocalyptic-Scripture through a written-response to Frere:[12]

I had no rest in my spirit until I waited upon you and offered myself as your pupil, to be instructed in prophecy according to your ideas thereof . . I am not willing that anyone should account of me as if I were worthy to have had revealed to me the important truths . . . only the Lord accounted me worthy to receive the faith of these things which He first made known to you. . . and if He make me the instrument of conveying that faith to any in His church, that they may make themselves ready for His coming . . .

From the time of his coming under Frere’s tutelage, Irving’s preaching began to ring with apocalyptic-language and bold-assertions concerning the interpretation prophetic-last-things.  He was joined in this fascination by another recent-acquaintance by the name of Henry Drummond,[13] a wealthy member of Parliament.  Drummond began to sponsor prophecy-conferences at his mansion in Albury Park, situated approximately thirty miles southeast of London that were attended by Irving, and commenced publication of a magazine on end-times-prophecy called The Morning Watch. It was through articles submitted to this publication that Irving would most widely-communicate his heretical-teaching concerning the humanity of Jesus Christ.

Although the Albury-conferences occurred prior to the rise of the fundamentalist-form of dispensationalism,[14] the conferences followed a very similar vein of thought, taking a very literalistic view so as to even necessitate the discovery and restoration of the ten lost tribes of Israel as prerequisite to the fulfillment of prophetic Scripture.  It was within this construct that Irving viewed the need for a “latter rain”, ie. the return of the apostolic-power to the Gentile-church and thereafter to the Jews (which he interpreted literally as those naturally-born).   It is clear that Irving envisioned a new age of the Spirit, and seems to have envisioned himself as a key communicator of that new dispensation.

iii.   Heretical Doctrine Concerning the Nature of Christ’s Humanity

In March of 1827 Irving preached a sermon wherein it was alleged by many listeners that he had referred to the Lord’s flesh as “sinful”.  This was reported to the Rev. Henry Cole, who visited Irving’s church in October and was shocked to hear Irving repeat from the pulpit what had been reported to him six months earlier.  Cole thereafter privately confronted Irving in his reference to the Lord’s flesh as “that sinful substance”.   Irving acknowledged these were his words and maintained the orthodoxy of his position in the face of Cole’s questioning.  Cole then published an account of this conversation in December, resulting in substantial outrage from the public against Irving.  In light of the controversy Irving withheld  publication of an essay on the topic until he could treat the matter with more care.  He offered his response by essay during the following year.

Irving’s response to Cole’s allegations appears remarkably naïve considering his position.  He writes (in reference to the controversy); “as if it were not the orthodox doctrine of the church”, and oddly refers to it as; “this great fundamental doctrine of the church”.[15]  Irving’s impression that his teaching was orthodox derived from Article XXI of the 1560 Scottish confession of faith, which states; “. . . as the eternal godhead hath given to the flesh of Christ Jesus (which of its own nature was mortal and corruptible) life and immortality . . .”.   However, the contention was that Irving (from the pulpit and in his discussion with Cole) went further than the Scotch confession in referring to the Lord’s flesh as actually corrupt, and (impliedly if not expressly) held in-check only through the agency of the Holy Ghost.

His essays of 1828 (responsive to the heresy-issue) argue that it was the Holy Ghost indwelling Christ that empowered his sinless-life rather than the nature of His flesh; that although He possessed the nature of His mother, it was; “by virtue of the Holy Ghost’s quickening and inhabiting of it, it was preserved sinless and incorruptible.”[16]   It was at about this time that the first meeting of the Albury Conference occurred giving rise to Drummond’s magazine.  The March 1829 edition included an essay by Irving called; On the Human Nature of Christ, followed by an article in the June edition called; On the True Humanity of Christ.  Both articles were efforts to defend his doctrine that the substance of Christ’s human nature was “sinful”.[17]  In January of 1830 he published The Orthodox & Catholic Doctrine of Our Lord’s Human Nature.  In the preface he attempts to explain himself that when he calls Christ’s flesh “sinful”:

I am defining the qualities of that nature which he took upon him,  and demonstrating it to be the very same in substance with that which we possess.   . . .  This is the substance of our argument, – that his human nature was holy in the only way in which holiness under the Fall exists or can exist, . . . through inworking or energizing of the Holy Ghost. [18]

In 1829 Edward Irving made a return-trip to Scotland for Edinburgh’s General Meeting of the Church of Scotland, but by this time his teachings had achieved repugnance in the Presbyterian community and he was rejected from preaching in most churches.  After teaching in a small chapel in Edinburgh and experiencing a tepid-welcome in Glasgow, he resorted to open-air preaching in that area.  He also preached in John Campbell’s church at Rhu.  On his return to London he was met by even greater furor over his doctrine, and (in June) published his essay entitled; On the True Humanity of Christ in Albury’s periodical, The Morning Watch.  None of Irving’s essays proved effective vindications of his views, and formal proceedings against him by the National Scotch Church in London began to take shape the following year.

d.  Irving’s Heretical Doctrine Sown Within the Scottish Revival

In the case of Mary Campbell, there is disturbing-evidence that she embraced the heretical-doctrine of Edward Irving at the time of her experience.  Prior to her experience of speaking in tongues, Rev. Scott had visited her in the autumn of 1829 with the doctrine of the distinction between regeneration and the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  He recommended to her that she read the book of Acts while keeping in mind this distinction as possibly leading her to this same conclusion.   However, her Bible-reading took a different course when in December of 1829, after reading John chapters 14 through 16, she concluded that the human nature of Christ was the same as that of every man, and that it was not the Lord’s inherent-holiness, but rather the power of the Holy Spirit within Him that sustained Him; precisely the same doctrine held by Edward Irving, who was now suffering the throes of public scorn and an ecclesiastical-indictment for this doctrine.

On January 16, 1830, several weeks before her experience of speaking in tongues, while Irving was in the midst of his struggle with the ecclesiastical committee and nearing the time of his eventual expulsion from the Presbyterian-ministry, Mary Campbell wrote him a letter expressing her joy in realizing the “truth” of the Lord’s humanity.  Irving characterizes the letter as follows:

This letter is remarkable as containing the true view of bodily suffering as a manifestation of Satan’s power in this sinful flesh of ours, which Christ took in order to cast him and keep him out of it.  [19]

This letter was received by Irving in the midst of the furor over his doctrine, and seems to have been a support for his recalcitrant-stance against the ecclesiastical authorities that took action against him during the following three years.  Irving even seems to have taken the events that occurred at Gorlach and Port Glasgow as a vindication of his heretical-views.

In September of 1830 a party from Irving’s London church visited both the Campbell and the MacDonald homes to investigate the accuracy of the reports that persons had received the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  This was not unusual, as many parties had visited the Campbell and MacDonald households from all parts of Scotland and England given the publicity that had been generated over the events of previous months.   The party from Regent Square church included attorney, John Cardale, his wife and sister, a physician by the name of Dr. Thompson, and two other persons.  They interviewed the persons-involved, witnessed the spiritual-worship, and returned to London convinced that it was a genuine work of God that had occurred.  Throughout October these encouraged others to pray for the Holy Spirit, and several people opened their homes for prayer-meetings for the baptism of the Holy Ghost.

Meanwhile, the London Presbytery called Irving to answer for his heretical-teaching.  On October 19th Irving announced that he would refuse to submit to their jurisdiction and continued to preach at Regent Square in spite of the fact that the Presbytery had ruled him to be a heretic on November 30th.  The response of the Regent Square Church came on December 15th in the form of a written, wholehearted endorsement  of Irving’s doctrines.

On April of the following year (1831) Mrs. Cardale began to speak in tongues.  She was also able to give the interpretation as; “The Lord will speak to His people!  The Lord hasteneth His coming!  The Lord cometh!” [20]  This was followed by others having similar-experiences and many began to exercise the gifts of tongues and prophecy privately in their homes.  The first complaint about this phenomenon came from one of his elders, a Mr. Nisbet (who had supported him against the Presbytery several months previous).   The controversy grew in October when certain women in the congregation began to burst-out in tongues or to flee from the crowded sanctuary making pained-noises as if trying to stifle the manifestations.   One of these women (Ms. Hall) afterward charged Irving not to be ashamed of following his master.  Irving was led to announce he could no longer resist the Spirit of God, and he began to allow the manifestation of tongues and prophecy in the worhsip services.

At the evening-service of Oct 30, 1831 a Mr. Taplin shouted loudly; “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!”  One of Irving’s biographers, Gordon Strachan  writes:

The extreme opinions that were formed either for or against him were occasioned as much by the novelty of his doctrine as by the power of his personal eloquence.  People were aware that they had never heard anyone like him before and when the preaching was followed by the manifestations of the Spirit they were even more certain that they were witnessing events both unique and novel in the tradition of the reformed church. [21]

Mary Campbell moved to London shortly thereafter where she became a part of Irving’s Regent Square Church, assuming a prominent-place as one of the “gifted ones” in the assembly.  On the other hand, Margaret MacDonald (and her brothers) rejected what was occurring in London as presumption, and contrary to the true work of the Holy Spirit, maintaining that what was occurring was a giving of the lordship to “the spirit” rather than to Jesus Christ.[22]

(This Subpart continues with an Article 2 – Trials of Edward Irving & Lessons Learned on Spiritual Delusion)

[1] The Pentecostal Theology of Edward Irving, by Gordon Strachan © 1973, Hendrickson Pub. pg. 15.

[2]  Ibid. pg 63

[3] Scott was assistant toCampbell from 1826 to 1828.  In the summer of 1828 he became assistant to Edward Irving in London.

[4] The Pentecostal Theology of Edward Irving, by Gordon Strachan © 1973, Hendrickson Pub. pg.64

[5] The Life of Edward Irving, byArnold Dallimore © 1983  Banner of Truth, pg. 177

[6] No relation to the minister, John McLeod Campbell.

[7] The Pentecostal Theology of Edward Irving, by Gordon Strachan © 1973, Hendrickson Pub., pg. 16.

[8] The Life of Edward Irving, byArnold Dallimore © 1983  Banner of Truth, pg. 105

[9] The Pentecostal Theology of Edward Irving, by Gordon Strachan © 1973, Hendrickson Pub. Pg 67 quoting a sister of Mary McDonald.

[10] The Pentecostal Theology of Edward Irving, by Gordon Strachan © 1973, Hendrickson Pub. Pg 68

[11] The Life of Edward Irving, by Arnold Dallimore © 1983  Banner of Truth, pg. 46

[12] The Life of Edward Irving, by Arnold Dallimore © 1983  Banner of Truth, pg. 59

[13] Henry Drummond (1786-1860) English banker, politician, writer; founder of the Catholic Apostolic Church

[14] “Dispensationalism” is the name given the doctrine formulated  by John Nelson Darby and the Plymouth Brethren of England in the 1840’s wherein the plan of God was viewed as divided into seven-distinct and chronological “dispensations” wherein God’s dealings with men varied depending-upon the particular time- dispensation one was born into.   Darby’s teaching was much-focused upon end-time prophecy and tended towards extremes in literalism.  These beliefs led to the adoption of such other beliefs as the “Pre-Tribulaton rapture”, and a Zionistic-approach to end-time prophecy.

[15] The Pentecostal Theology of Edward Irving, by Gordon Strachan © 1973, Hendrickson Pub. pg.29

[16] Ibid. pg. 30

[17] Ibid. pg. 35

[18] Ibid. pg. 36

[19] The Pentecostal Theology of Edward Irving, by Gordon Strachan © 1973, Hendrickson Pub. pg.66

[20] The Life of Edward Irving, byArnold Dallimore © 1983  Banner of Truth, pg. 111-112

[21] The Pentecostal Theology of Edward Irving, by Gordon Strachan © 1973, Hendrickson Pub. pg.18

[22] The Life of Edward Irving, byArnold Dallimore © 1983  Banner of Truth, pg. 118.


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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