National Scotch Church - Edward Irving (1831-1832)

Edward Irving came to this church as pastor in 1822.  Someone described him as, 'His commanding stature, the symmetry of his form, the dark and melancholy beauty of his countenance, rather rendered piquant than impaired by an obliquity of vision, produced an imposing impression even before his deep and powerful voice had given utterance to its melodious thunders; and harsh and superficial half-truths enunciated with surpassing ease and grace of gesture, and not only with an air of absolute conviction but also with the authority of a prophetic messenger, in tones whose magical fascination was inspired by an earnestness beyond all imitation of art, acquired a plausibility and importance which, at least while the orator spoke, made his audience entirely forgetful of their preconceived objections against them. The subject-matter of his orations, and his peculiar treatment of his themes, no doubt also, at least at first, constituted a considerable part of his attractive influence.'

Irving was a thinker and he was persuaded that the second coming of Jesus was imminent. In addition in 1828 he began to think that salvation was available to all and not just the elect that the Calvinistic Church of Scotland and he started to believe that the Spiritual Gifts were available today and were not just for Apostolic times. 

A banker, Henry Drummond, had bought an estate in Albury, near Guildford and from 1826-30, each year he had a conference made up of evangelical leaders (the Albury Circle). The main theological input came from Irving. These meetings concentrated on praying for a great outpouring of Holy Spirit. 

A report came to the group in 1830 that a revival had broken out at Gareloch, Scotland that included tongues and healing. (see my account under 'revivalists' tab and the 1830 Tongues Revival.) The group sent six men to check it out and John Cardale wrote a very positive account of it in a journal owned by the Albury Circle.

Edward Irving was therefore expectant of the Spiritual Gifts breaking out in his church. After the six returned from Scotland prayer groups were started in various homes to pray for an outpouring of Holy Spirit. Irving began a 6.30 am prayer-meeting in the spring of 1831 where up to a thousand people attended. On April 30th Miss Cardale spoke in tongues and prophesied in a private meeting; the first such occurrence in London. Others started to speak in tongues as well, but the church's board members generally opposed the manifestation of the Gifts and did not want them happening inside the official church meeting. Unfortunately, those who were using tongues wanted them in the Sunday meeting, so Irving had a problem. 

'It was not until the end of October did the new wonder manifest itself publicly. In the interval, notwithstanding his eagerness and strong prepossession in favour of these miraculous pretensions, Irving took the part of an investigator, and, according to his own conviction, examined closely and severely into the wonderful phenomena now presented before him.' 

In the end the decision was taken out of Irving's hands. A Mr Pilkington testified to what happened in the Sunday service. '...and was, as usual, much gratified and comforted by Mr Irving’s lectures and prayers; but I was very unexpectedly interrupted by the well-known voice of one of the sisters, who, finding she was unable to restrain herself, and respecting the regulation of the Church, rushed into the vestry, and gave vent to utterance; whilst another, as I understood, from the same impulse, ran down the side aisle, and out of the church, through the principal door. The sudden, doleful, and unintelligible sounds, being heard by all the congregation produced the utmost confusion; the act of standing up, the exertion to hear, see, and understand, by each and every one of perhaps 1000 or 2000 persons, created a noise which may be easily conceived. Mr Irving begged for attention, and when order was restored, he explained the occurrence, which he said was not new, except in the congregation, where he had been for some time considering the propriety of introducing it; but though satisfied of the correctness of such a measure, he was afraid of dispersing the flock; nevertheless, as it was now brought forward by God’s will, he felt it his duty to submit. He then said he would change the discourse intended for the day, and expound the 14th chapter of Corinthians, in order to elucidate what had just happened. The sister was now returning from the vestry to her seat, and Mr Irving, observing her from the pulpit, said, in an affectionate tone, "Console yourself, sister! console yourself!" He then proceeded with his discourse.'

At the evening service, Irving announced that in future he would allow tongues and prophecies in the meetings and he preached on the Baptism of Holy Spirit at the mid-week meetings. Unfortunately, the board of trustees were against the exercising of these gifts as they thought the service became disorderly. The board brought the issue before the London Presbytery, who, in May 1832 decided Irving was in violation of the order of worship and he was locked out of the church. As a result Irving took nearly all his congregation to a new building in Newman Street, London.

(The quotations above came from, 'The Life of Edward Irving', Volume 2 by Mrs Oliphants 1862)


Additional Information

The church was bombed during the war.