Edward Irving's Defense on Unknown Tongues: Part 1

Edward Irving's first treatise

A digitization of Edward Irving’s first defense in Fraser’s Magazine on his promotion of unknown tongues.

Reverend Edward Irving and his central London congregation (1830s) were the center of world-wide religious attention on the topic and practice of speaking in tongues. The result was that he received heavy criticism from a variety of sources.

Irving sought to counter claims against him and his church by publishing three articles in a popular English publication called Fraser’s Magazine. All three works are digitally captured for the Gift of Tongues Project. The following is his first entry.


Facts Connected with Recent Manifestations of Spiritual Gifts.
By the Rev. Edward Irving.

[An editors note from Fraser’s Magazine] We do not think that there any apology requisite for the publication of a paper from the pen of Mr. Irving. We are sure it must excite great interest. Our own opinions we reserve until the close of the following series, which will, we believe, extend to two or three Numbers. O. Y.

National Scotch Church, Dec. 24, 1831.

[Irving’s response to the editor] Your urgent request that I would permit you to publish, through your Magazine, some authentic account from my own pen of the work of the Spirit in my church and elsewhere, in order to stay, if possible, the torrent of blasphemy which is sweeping through the land, and give reasonable and religious people the means of making up a judgment upon so important a matter, has at length prevailed with me ; and I sit down faithfully to narrate what hath come under my own eye, or been brought to my knowledge from the most certain and authentic sources. For, while it is a great point of duty not to cast pearls before swine, nor to give that which is holy unto the dogs, it is so also to sow beside all waters, and especially to make known the work of the Lord among other classes, now that the religious world are violently rejecting it. These two duties I shall endeavour to unite in this narrative, by presenting the subject in an historical form, with only so much of doctrine intermingled as necessary for the right exposition of the matter. Referring you and your readers, for the mysteries of the subject, to my public ministrations, to the papers in the Morning Watch, and to my Treatise on the Day of Pentecost, or the Baptism with the Holy Ghost, I shall merely set down in order the particulars of this work, as they are most certainly known by me to have taken place.

Your faithful Friend and Pastor, EDWARD IRVING.

To Mr. James Fraser.

Four years ago, about the time of the opening of the National Scotch Church, when teaching to my people the orthodox and Catholic doctrine of holy sacraments, I shewed from the constitution of Christian baptism (Acts, ii, 38, 39), that the baptised Church is still held by God to be responsible for the full and perfect gift of the Holy Ghost, as the same had been received by our blessed Lord upon his ascension unto glory, and by Him shed down upon his church on the day of Pentecost, and by them exercised in all the ways recorded in the book of Acts and the epistles of the holy apostles. The doctrine, as I then taught it, may be found briefly set forth in the second of the Homilies on Baptism, which I published shortly after, and more fully in a Treatise on the Baptism with the Holy Ghost, whereof the first part was published a few weeks ago. From that time to this, (and indeed since ever I read the Word of God for the building up of my own faith), I have never ceased to believe that the spiritual gifts and the spiritual office-bearers, as they are enumerated in Scripture (1 Cor. xii. 4—11; Eph. iv. 7—17; Rom. xii. 6—9; I Pet. iv. 10,11, &c.), together with the various supernatural methods of operation recorded in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, are not accidental and temporary occurrences of a miraculous kind, for certain special ends and occasions, but substantial and permanent forms of operation proper to the Holy Ghost, and in no wise to be separated from Him or from the Church, which is his chosen residence and temple, the “body of Christ,” and “ the fulness of Him who filleth all in all.” With this faith firmly rooted in my heart, I did not doubt that the only reason for the disappearance of those endowments from the visible Church, or rather from the face of her history, was the evil heart of unbelief, and the hiding of “light of the world” under “the bushel” of human systems and ordinances, and the “burying of our talent in the earth” of the natural man;—a condition of things which ought not to be wondered at, seeing our Lord had expressly forewarned his Church against it; nor did hesitate to preach this as a great head of the Christian faith, needful to be believed for the honour of the risen Lord, for the completeness of the Spirit’s work, and for the consolation and establishment of the Church ; and I was never loath, on any fitting occasion, to maintain the argument with any of my clerical brethren, whether of my own Church or the Church of England, as some to whose eye this may come will bear me witness. The consequence of this distinct and explicit witness-bearing was, to prepare my own mind for taking the decisive steps which I have taken after I was persuaded that they were come into the midst of us.

But while I was convinced so long ago of the undoubted right which the Church hath in all the manifestations of the Holy Ghost made by Christ and his apostles, and that her unfaithfulness was the only cause for their disappearance, it was not so clear to me that they would be restored again anterior to the time of his second advent, when all things shall be reconstituted (Acts, ii. 21), and the complete inheritance shall be brought to us, whereof this seal of the Spirit is only earnest and the first-fruits (Eph. i. 14). For though I saw clearly and beyond question that this, like all “the gifts and callings of God, is without repentance” (Rom. xi. 29) on his part, it was then doubtful to my mind whether or not the Church of Christ, like the Jewish nation, might not have been ejected from her rightful possessions, and left to famine and misery of spiritual good until the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord, and he shall send forth Jesus Christ, “which before was preached unto us” (Acts, iii. 19, 20). If I had applied myself steadily to the resolution of this doubt, it would speedily have cleared away before the express promises of the Holy Ghost the Comforter (Joh, xiv. xv. xvi.) made, not to the Church as a whole, but to every one who believeth, for the performance of all “the works which Christ did, and for greater works than these, because he went unto the Father” (John, xiv. 12); for preaching and for prophesying (John, vii. 37); and in particular for “casting out devils, speaking with new tongues, taking up serpents, and drinking of deadly things without being hurt, and laying hands on the sick that they might recover” (Mark, xvi. 17, 18). But the way had to be prepared by the full preaching of Christ’s coming in our flesh, and his coming again in glory—the two great divisions of Christian doctrine which had gone down into the earth, out of sight and out of mind, and which must be revived by preaching before the Holy Spirit could have any thing to witness unto ; for he doth not witness to any system of man, Calvinistic or Arminian, or to any ordinance of man, Episcopalian or Presbyterian; but to Jesus, who suffered for us in the flesh, who shareth with us his life and power, and cometh with us his life and power, and cometh with us in glory. Being occupied with the ministry of these two great truths—Christ’s union with us by the one flesh and our present union with him by the one Spirit—I had not made sure to my own mind, nor taught my people to look or to pray for the restoration of the spiritual gifts, but confined myself to the confession of our sins and the sins of our fathers, for they had ceased, and the bewailing of our low and abject state before the Lord. Thus we stood, when the tidings of the restoration of the gift of tongues in the west of Scotland burst upon us like the morning star heralding the approach of the day, and turned our speculations upon the true doctrine into the examination of a fact.

If some fond parents, having parted from their children for a time, should hear of their being all cast away and lost at sea, while on their return to their paternal home and inheritance, how their hearts would grieve under the sore bereavement ; and if, after long years of sorrow, they should hear of a family of children with their attendants having been discovered upon some island of those seas, answering feature and in form, in age and in number, to their dear offspring whose loss they had so longed lamented—what joyful hope, what trembling anxiety, what earnest and careful search would fill their hearts and occupy all their minds! I cannot say that my feelings were altogether such, but they belonged to this class. I did rejoice with great joy when the tidings were read to me, coming through a most authentic channel, that the bridal attire and jewels of the Church had been found again. It was as health to my navel, as marrow and fatness to my bones. And I felt it to be a matter of too great concern to yield up my faith to any thing but the clearest evidence, and at the same time of so great importance as not leave a stone unturned in order to come at the truth ; for if it should turn out to be true, I perceived at once that it would revolutionise the Church, and make such an upturning as the world had not seen. I had the amplest means of obtaining information, first from eye and ear witnesses, men of reputation, elders of the church, then from many of the most spiritual member of my flock, who went down to see and hear, and finally from the gifted persons themselves. And the particulars of the work in Scotland are as follow.

In the west of Scotland the thick and dark veil which men have cast over the truth had been taken away, chiefly by the preaching of that faithful man of God, John Campbell, late minister of Row, who was deposed by the last General Assembly for teaching that God loves every man, and that Christ died to redeem all mankind. His word leavened all that land, and took firm and fast hold of many to the saving of their souls. But he had received no insight, nor held any discourse with the people on this subject ; only he had prepared them for every thing by teaching them the boundless love of God, and the full and free gift of Jesus with all the riches of glory which he contained. To another preacher of the Gospel, now also deposed by the same Assembly for the postponing the Confession of Faith to the Holy Scriptures, presiding at present over the Scotch congregation at Woolwich, it was reserved to sow the seed which hath borne this precious fruit. He was at that time fellow-labourer in the National Scotch Church, being our missionary to the poor of this city ; and as we went in and out together, he used often to signify to me his conviction that the spiritual gifts ought still to be exercised in the Church ; that we are at liberty, and indeed bound to pray for them, as being baptised into the assurance of the “gift of the Holy Ghost,” as well as of “repentance and remission of sins” (Acts, ii.38). When I used, on these occasions, to propose to him my difficulty, as stated above, lest for our fathers transgressions we should have been adjudged to the loss of our inheritance until our Redeemer should come, he never failed to make answer, that though we were baptised into one body, the Church, we were called to act thereon upon our several responsibility as persons; that the promise is to every believer personally, who, contend and to instruct whenever the subject came before me, in my public ministrations of reading and preaching the word, that the Holy Ghost ought to be manifested amongst us all, the same as ever he was in any one of the primitive churches.

Towards the end of the year 1829, our excellent missionary—whose mind God was more and more confirming on this head, and enabling to disentangle the subject of baptism with the Holy Ghost from the work of regeneration, with which it is commonly confounded, whereof the latter cometh from the incarnation, and the former from the incarnation, and the former from the glorification of the Son of God—being called down to Scotland upon some occasion, and residing for a while at his father’s house, which is in the heart of that district of Scotland upon which the light of Mr. Campbell’s ministry had arisen, he was led to open his mind to some of the godly people in those parts, and, among others, to a young woman who was at that time lying ill of a consumption, from which afterwards, when brought to the very door of death, she was raised up instantaneously by the mighty hand of God. Being a woman of a very fixed and constant spirit, he was not able, with all his power of statement and argument, which is unequalled by that of any man I have ever met with, to convince her of the distinction between regeneration and baptism with the Holy Ghost; and when he could not prevail, he left her with a solemn charge to read over the Acts of the Apostles with that distinction in her mind, and to beware how she rashly rejected what he believed to be the truth of God. By this young woman it was that God, not many months after, did restore the gift of speaking with tongues and prophesying to the Church; and that man might have no hand in such a work, He took from our missionary the honour of convincing her, and from her the honour of having readily opened her ear to instruction; reserving to Himself both the work of teaching her an inclining her heart to be taught. Her disease went on rapidly increasing, and to all appearance hurrying her into eternity; and her communion with God grew a pace as her hope of being removed to his rest drew nigh. But, though there were not as yet any supernatural manifestations of the Holy Ghost in those parts, 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 countenance 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 he had 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 t was not intended for communication. I knew this man ; I had conversed with him a few months before, when I wnet into that neighbourhood preaching the coming and kingdom of the Lord. He was a saint of the first degree. The particulars of these death-beds, more especially that of James Grubb, were regularly communicated to me by one of the deacons of my church, a native of that district, who with all his father’s house fear the Lord, and was wont to receive by letter from his kindred very full details of these matters. My friend and fellow-labourer also, upon his return, confirmed all which I had previously heard, and was stronger than ever in his conviction that the gifts of the Holy Ghost would be restored, and that speedily.

In the month of December of the same year, 1829, the handmaid of the Lord, to whom reference hath been made above, was led by the Spirit of God to read with a new light that blessed portion of his Word which is written in the 14th, 15th, and 16th chapters of the Gospel according to John, and to find therein that seed of faith and hope which afterwards bore fruit in the manifestation of the Holy Ghost. She saw there the truth of our Lord’s human nature, which in itself was no other than our own, and derived the virtues of immaculate holiness and superhuman power from no passive quality, but from an active operation thereon of the Son of God boy the Holy Ghost. She came to see what for six or seven years I had been preaching in London, that all the works of Christ were done by the man anointed with the Holy Ghost, and not by the God mixing himself up with the man. The person is the Son of God ; the bound which he hath consented to speak and act in are the bounds of mortal manhood ; the power by which, when within these narrow bounds, he doth such mighty things, against and above the course of nature, death, and hell, is the power of the Holy Ghost ; and the end of the whole mystery of his incarnation is to shew unto mortal men what every one of them, through faith in his name, shall be able to perform ; as it is written in the first of these chapters, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works which I do shall he do also, and greater works than these shall he do, because I go unto my Father” (John, xiv. 12). The effect of this discovery upon her, I have heard her tell, was such as to fill her soul by night and day for some time, to the exclusion almost her natural rest. And these words of Peter’s sermon to Cornelius were constantly in her mind :—“How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power, who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil ; for God was with him.” (Acts, x. 38.) She straightway argued, if Jesus as a man in my nature thus spake and thus performed mighty works by the Holy Ghost, which he even promiseth to me, then ought I in the same nature, by the same Spirit, do likewise “the works which he did, and greater works than these.” I have now before me the original letter which she wrote to a friend soon after this, bearing date the 16th of January, 1830, which, however, I will not transcribe, lest I should swell the narrative too much, and introduce into it spiritual things too scared for the common eye. It contains the first overflowing of a soul filled with the glorious truth, that every baptised man should, through the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ and the presence of the Comforter, shew forth the same signs and wonders as Christ did, “that the Father might be glorified in the Son ;” as it is written (Mark, xvi. 17), “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.” This letter is remarkable as containing the rue 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. With these emphatic, and, in her own case, prophetic words, the letter concludes: —“You cannot conceive the effect which this view of suffering has upon me. I am indeed most painfully exercised in mind when I think of it, and am sometimes forced to exclaim, Why should I, seeing I am a daughter of Abraham, be so long bound by the devil? Pray for me, my dear friend, in reference to this thing.”

I am writing a record of the workings of God for the eye of a most unbelieving generation, who would fain persuade themselves that God hath forsaken the earth, and left it to be managed by infidel statesmen, false hearted churchmen, and lying prophets ; but they are all my brethren, and some of them may, by God’s grace, be delivered from the snare of Antichrist by what I write ; therefore I will write every things as if I were speaking it from my own pulpit, with the single love of truth in my heart, and fear of God before my eyes.

There was no manifestation of the Holy Ghost until the end of March, that is, about two months from the date of this letter ; but how surely the sound doctrines stated above had struck their roots into the heart of this young woman is made manifest from another letter, bearing date the 23d of March, of which the original is still preserved, and lies now before me. Along with some other, she had conceived the purpose of a mission to the heathen, and so was brought into the very condition in which the apostles were anterior to the day of Pentecost, when they had received their commission to go forth into all the nations and preach the Gospel, but were commanded to tarry in Jerusalem until they should receive power from on high. This following is an extract from a letter communicating this missionary design :—“The former rain was first poured out on ‘unlearned and ignorant men,’ that the excellency of the POWER might appear to be of God, that no flesh might glory in his presence. And I am taught of the Holy Ghost to believe the ‘latter rain’ will first descend on those of God’s children who are esteemed the weakest and the basest. It is needful God should select such instruments to advance his glory, that even Christians may behold what mighty victories simple unlimited confidence in God will effect.” The sentiment expressed in this quotation I can no longer doubt, after what I behold proceeding in the seats of learning and high places of power within the Church, which are but one great confederacy against the truth as it is in Jesus—the smiting with the fist of wickedness every faithful man, and casting him forth with indignity from their apostate and apostating synagogues. When I see the Presbyteries of the North, and the Bishops of the South, and the heads of the populace among the dissenting bodies, uniting to silence every watchman who hath in him any discernment or faithfulness, what can I conclude, but that God will rather stain their pride than suffer his Son’s glory to be by them overthrown. Saul, the son of Kish, than whom there was no goodlier person in Israel, has wearied the Lord, and he is proceeding once more to bring David from feeding the ewes with young to feed his people Israel. I believe that the day of carpenters and fishermen is come again, and the day of masters in arts and doctors in divinity is gone by. “Not by might nor by strength, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.”

The letter from which the above extract is made is very long, and almost entirely taken up with the subject of missions, and, indeed, was written to persuade a faithful brother in the Lord to undertake that service for Christ and his Church. This purpose hath not yet obtained its fulfilment ; but I have no doubt will in its own time. So, also, the setting apart of the Apostles to go to the heathen, though anterior to the day of Pentecost, obtained not its accomplishment till several years after the baptism of power, for witness-bearing was accomplished upon them on the day of Pentecost. They had a previous work to do within the bounds of the Church ; the work of reviving the decayed life of the true members, and separating the false members thereof. For to this double end, of cherishing the humble, and utterly disgusting the proud, prophesying with the sign of another tongue doth serve as saith the prophet Isaiah, “Whom shall he teach knowledge? And whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept ; line upon line, line upon line ; here a little, and there a little : for with stammering lips, and another tongue, he will speak to this people. To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest ; and this is the refreshing ; yet they would not hear. But the word of the Lord was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept ; line upon line, line upon line ; here a little, and there a little ; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken and snared, and taken.”—(Isa. xxviii. 9—13). No doubt the baptism with the Holy Ghost, whereof the sign is speaking with another tongue, doth qualify for bearing witness for Christ to all lands, as our Lord in divers places expressly declareth (Luke, xxiv. 49; Acts, i. 8); but it hath also a special application to the Church, being God’s simple and childish food to restore the constitution of his people, debilitated with the strong drink of man’s opinions, and his snare to take captive and utterly make away with all those proud hypocrites, who prefer the traditions and arguments of men to his own precious and simple truth. And of these two offices, served by the ordinances of prophesying with the stammering lip and the sign of another tongue, the latter is that which God will first set himself about ; because he loveth not to cast off nor to separate from his people until he hath mad all efforts to retain them in their love and obedience. And accordingly, both in the days of the apostles and in these our days, he hath begun his work, first at home, and is labouring in it with all speed ; and when he hath prevailed to separate the living from the dead, and to nourish up the living into some stature and strength fit for foreign travel, he will send them forth into all lands to preach the everlasting Gospel unto every nation, and kindred, and tongue, saying, “Fear God, and give glory to him ; for the hour of his judgment is come.” the army must first be enlisted and disciplined at home, before it is sent abroad to the field of warfare. The Lord first gave to his disciples the promise of the baptism of the Comforter, in the 14th, 15th, and 16th chapters of John ; so brought he the minds of those in our days, whom he was preparing to baptise into the understanding of that divine discourse ; he then, during the forty days between his resurrection and his ascension, gave them their commission to go to the heathen ; and the like spiritual desire and self-devotion did he awaken in this case. Finally, after he had ascended to his glory, he poured down his Spirit on the day of Pentecost upon his disciples, who straightway spake with tongues and magnified God ; so also, as we now proceed to tell, did he revive this wondrous gift, so long dormant in his Church.

Sometime between the 23d of March 1830, the date of the letter from which the last extract is made, and the end of that month, on the evening of the Lord’s day, the gift of speaking with tongues was restored to the Church. “Then he restored that which he took not away.” (Psa. lxix.) The handmaiden of the Lord of whom he made choice on that night to manifest forth in her his glory, had been long afflicted with a disease which the medical men pronounced to be a decline, and that it would soon bring her to her grave, whither her sister had been hurried by the same malady some months before. Yet, while all around were anticipating her dissolution, she was, in the strength of faith, meditating missionary labours among the heathen ; this night she was to receive the preparation of the Spirit.—the preparation of her body she received not till some days after. It was on the Lord’s day ; and one of her sisters, along with a female friend, who had come to the house for that end, had been spending the whole day in humiliation, and fasting, and prayer before God, with a special respect to the restoration of the gifts. They had come up in the evening to the sick chamber of their sister, who was laid on a sofa, and along with one or two others of the household, they were engaged in prayer together. When, in the midst of their devotion, the Holy Ghost came with mighty power upon the sick woman as she lay in her weakness, and constrained her to speak at great length, and with superhuman strength, in an unknown tongue, to the astonishment of all who heard, and to her own great edification and enjoyment in God ; “for he that speaketh in a tongue edifieth himself.” She has told me that this first seizure of the Spirit was the strongest she ever had ; and that it was the in some degree necessary it should have been so, otherwise she would not have dared give way to it. For once “the spirit of the prophets was [not] subject to the prophets.” It was so also the first time that silence was broke in my church. I have put the question directly, and been answered by the person who was raised for that purpose, that she never had so strong an impulse ; which, thinking to restrain, she fled out of the church into the vestry, but found it quite irresistible, and was forced to give vent to that volume of majestic sound which passed through two closed doors, and filled the whole church. And so, according to the example of the Scriptures, it ought to be; seeing that when it came upon the church on the day of Pentecost, they did not, and could not, refrain themselves, but all spake with tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance, though there was no audience to hear or profit by them. So also in the cases of Cornelius and his company (Acts, x.), and of the Ephesian brethren (Acts, xix.)

And having thus brought my narrative down to the great event of the Holy Spirit’s again making his voice to be heard, I shall stay here a little ; and, before proceeding further, make one or two observations, which could not be so well introduced into the narrative. The first is concerning the manner of its bestowal, without any outward sign or demonstration, as on the day of Pentecost, and without the laying on of the hands of an apostle ; but in the exercise of faith and prayer. That the Holy Ghost was commonly bestowed in the exercise of faith and prayer, without any visible sign, is not only manifest from the express promise of the Lord (Luke, xi. 5—14) ; but also from the example of the Samaritan church (Acts, viii. 15). And because faith and prayer come by preaching, the Holy Ghost descended upon the Gentiles at the conclusion of Peter’s sermon to them (Acts, x. 45) ; and in the case of the Ephesian church it attended upon baptism. In two of these cases the laying on of the hands of the apostles did intervene, but in the other it intervened not, which proveth that it is not necessary. When any one will shew me a passage of Scripture expressly declaring that the laying on of the hands of the apostles is necessary to the receiving of the spiritual gifts, I will believe the Lord, who declares that nothing is necessary but to ask and to seek, and importunately to knock (Luke, xi.) ; I will believe Peter, who declares that nothing is necessary but to be baptised into the name of Jesus Christ (Acts, ii. 28, 39) ; I will believe Paul, who makes the ministration of the Spirit dependent only upon the hearing of faith (Gal. iii. 2, 5, 14; Eph. i. 13). And believing these declarations accordant with all the Scriptures, I will preach, in the expectation of my people receiving the Spirit in the act of hearing ; and I will lead them to pray, in the sure faith of receiving the Holy Ghost in answer to their importune prayers. At the same time, I see the place in the divine economy given to the apostles, to the end that their dignity and authority, as having the true doctrine, might be authenticated against all pretenders and usurpers ; and also that the gift might be known, not only to come immediately from Christ, but mediately through the faithful members of his truth. That it might be seen immediately to proceed from himself, the two capital instances, of the day of Pentecost for the Jews, and of Cornelius for the Gentiles, came down without any intervention ; but that, if apostles were again raised up—as I believe they will be—they may again have this effectual laying of hands for the seal of their office, I take not upon me to dispute, but that we are to tarry for it. But when they shall come they will not assuredly supersede Christ, but stand humbly under him, as prepared channels through which his virtue may pass.

In the next place, as it was never intended that there should be any giving of the law but one ; whereby Josiah shaped his proceedings when he restored the religion of Judah ; and but one ordering of the temple, according to which Zerubbabel wrought when her restored its ruins ; and but one incarnation of the Son of God for sin destroying, which he then preached over again at the resurrection—so is there but one day of Pentecost, with its signs of the mighty rushing wind and the cloven tongues of fire, and the witnessing nations; and to expect another is folly and delusion. The gifts then came into the Church, and are in the baptised Church now as ever, and shall be, without repentance, until Christ come, yea and for ever ; for the Comforter is to abide forever ; They shall perfect themselves : the partial shall give way to the perfect, but the substance of the power and the glory shall abide for ever. We might as well expect a resurrection of Christ over again, to satisfy their scepticism, as expect another day of Pentecost, with the witness-bearing nations to attest the tongues. It is of the essence of the tongue that it should be unknown ; and the definition of it is, “He that speaketh in a tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God ; for no man understandeth.” (1 Cor. xiv. 2.) If it were understood by the speaker or the hearer, it would not serve its end of proving that the speaker is not man, but the Holy Ghost. For if he understand it himself, then it is he who may be using it ; if others understand it, then he may have learnt it ; and this would draw a suspicion which would militate against the end of God ; which is to shew, that not the person or the speaker, but the Holy Ghost, fills the spirit of the person ; filling his spirit, but not touching his understanding, so as that he himself is edified, but incapable of edifying others, until the Holy Ghost, having given the sign of his personal presence and agency, begin to speak in the native tongue. “he edifieth himself,” but not others : while the native tongue is uttering, he and all that hear edified alike. But while it is of the essence of the tongue, in order that it may be a sign, that it should be unknown, just as of a miracle it is of the essence that it should be supernatural, there must be added to the tongue words intelligible, either from the same mouth or from another, in the way of interpretation, in order that the end of all signs, which is edification, may be accomplished. And so at Caesarea they not only spake with tongues, but magnified God ; and at Ephesus they spake with tongues and prophesied. And so it is in these days. Of the hundreds of manifestations which I have heard, there have been a few without the introductory sign of the unknown tongue, but there never was one without the main substance of testifying to Jesus, and exhorting unto holiness in our own tongue. On the day of Pentecost there is no mention that the utterance was twofold, partly unknown and partly known, although the symbol of the cloven tongue would lead to such a supposition. But if it were not so, there were at hand the very natives whose tongues were spoken, to attest the reality and interpret the substance of the thing spoken. And perhaps utterance was withheld in the language of Jerusalem in order to arrest the attention of the people the more. This, however, is a matter of little importance. Suffice it to observe, that the experiment the made of these tongues which the Holy Ghost moved men to speak, doth attest them for ever to be true tongues of men : and this being once attested, he who insists to have it over again, might as well insist to have the attestation of Christ’s life, and miracles, and death, and resurrection, over again. I say once more to this most ignorant and self-conceited generation, that the tongue would in no way serve the purpose of proving the Holy Ghost to be the speaker, unless it were unknown alike to the speaker and to the hearers of it. There could never be but one day of Pentecost ; a second would have invalidated the first. This is a riddle to the shallow men whom I am writing to. I leave them a month to discover it. But not one in a thousand will give it as much time as children do to guess by the fireside. For the men of this generation are but impatient overgrown children. Why the write to them at all? In order to rebuke them, and haply to win some stragglers from the reading mob back again to the proper occupation of man, which is, to think and act, to meditate and contemplate. Reading, and writing, and casting accounts, are doing more to unman mankind than many—than almost other causes. The only book worth reading is the Bible ; and that can be read only with the honest heart, which almost all other books do tend to take away. But this is not within my present occupation.


Digitized by Charles A. Sullivan

1 thought on “Edward Irving's Defense on Unknown Tongues: Part 1”

  1. I am thankful for the opportunity to learn about how and when in history, the perception of tongues as being incoherent utterance began to become established and accepted by many as original. Thank you for posting these writings of Edward Irving.


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