Edward Irving’s Defense on Unknown Tongues: Part 3

Irving's 3rd defense about unknown tongues

A digitization of Edward Irving’s third 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 found within the Gift of Tongues Project framework. The following is his third entry.



I would come far short of a true and faithful account of the solemn matter, did I leave my readers with the impression that we had merely received one of the many gifts enumerated in the list geven by the apostle, while I believe that we have received that which is the root and the stem of them all, out of which they all grow, and by which they are all nourished. It is, I believe, the same form of utterance which was first given to Pentecost, for her strengthening and enlargement, to the end she might be taught by the Holy Ghost, and trained up from childhood into the estate of manhood, when, in the various members, the various gifts and capacities appeared. Let it be observed how the prophet Isaiah, prophesying of this (Isa. xxviii. 9—14; compared with 1 Cor. xiv. 21), declarath that God was to use this method for training up weaned children into the estate of manhood, at a time when the Church in general would be running after the strong drink of man’s doctrines, commended with all the forms of lip-eloquence and natural understanding. To bring discredit upon all which human argument, and to cast down the hypocritical spirit of man from the usurped place of divine authority, God declarath that he would speak with stammering lips, precept upon precept, and line upon line, after the manner of a nurse to her weaned child; all the while giving forth, in this contemptible way, under the guise of this “foolishness of God,” the “rest and refreshment” wherewith those weary of the uncertainty and perplexity of man’s teaching, might be brought to rest in the very truth of God, separate (Page 317) and away from the manner wherein it was expressed. But to make certain that it was all the while from god, words of a tongue were added to it, which neither the speaker nor hearer (except in the case of Pentecost) understood, and which, to every man who had confidence in the speaker as an honest man, yea, and from the very manner of it, was proof enough that it was supernatural. Even so now, in a day when we have as many sects, and systems, and gospels, as we have able and ingenious preachers—when men are attracted, not by the truth of God, but by the eminency of the preacher, by the oratory, the argument, the eloquence, the natural fervour and power of utterance,—God, that he might prepare a church for the stern duties and trials which are before her, and separate from her the impurities of man’s traditions, whereof she is full, and send adrift all speculators in religion, hat brought forth the self-same instrument out of his armoury, raising up obscure persons—weak women and uneducated men—endowing them with the very same gift of speaking in “other tongues,” and with “stammering of lip,” and with frequent repetitions, “line upon line, line upon line; precept upon precept, precept upon precept;” and it hath been attended with the effect of driving away, in utter disgust, all but the simple-hearted, single-minded disciples, who love the truth for its own sake. These it hath gathered, these it hath refreshed—to these it hath taught their infantile and helpless condition: it is building them up in faith and holiness, it is rooting and grounding them in love, and it will, like good food strengthened as we need it, bring the Church unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. Those things which are the popular objections to the work, viz. the unintelligibleness of the tongues, and the inartificial style of the utterance in English, and the frequent repetitions, are, in truth, the very marks of its identity with that which is prophesied by the prophet Isaiah, and described by the apostle Paul. And before leaving this, I may observe, that the effects also which it hath produced are the very effects prophesied by Isaiah, and experienced by the apostle; viz. the gathering out from the Jewish Church of a remnant according to the election of grace, by whom the nations might be evangelised, and the stumbling of all the rest, according to the word of Isaiah in the same place, “that they might stumble and fall back, and be snared and taken.” So will it prove, yes, and hath in a manner already proved amongst us, to be for the rising of a few and for the falling of many in Israel; and for a similar end, the end, viz. of standing up against and by force of holiness, exposing the sevenfold coverlet of hypocrisy which is in the Church, especially that called evenagelical—of detecting the mystery of iniquity, the spirit of Antichrist, in all departments of church, and state, and civil society, literature, and science, and art, education, benevolence, and religious associations—of building up a Church to stand firm and steadfast upon the Rock of Ages, when all things established are scattered like smoke before the wind—and, finally, of spreading the members of that Church abroad, to carry the full Gospel of the kingdom into all lands, just before the hour of judgment arriveth, as it is prophesied in the two witnesses who resist Antichrist (Rev. xi.), and in the angel who, just before the judgment, flies through the midst of heaven, “having the everlasting Gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people; saying, with a loud voice, fear God, and give glory to him, for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.” (Rev. xiv. 6—7)

Besides this appeal to the radical prophecy of Isaiah, to shew that the thing which we have received is the very gift of tongues bequeathed on the day of Pentecost, there are one or two other considerations quite decisive. The character of God in all respects, but especially in respect of the giving of the Holy Ghost, is contained in these words of the Lord: “And I say unto you, ask, and it shall be given you’ seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he as a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? or if he shall ask an (Page 318) [egg] will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, known how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” (Luke, xi. 9—13.) We asked him, we entreated and besought him for the Holy Ghost; we met morning after morning and confessed our sins, and perused his word, and exhorted one another, and pleaded the cause of his Church before him; we lamented and bewailed our low and lost estate; we waited patiently before the Lord at all times, and ceased not: and is it to be believed that the Lord, instead of the Holy Ghost, should send us a delusion of the mind, or a possession Satan? We have not such thoughts of God; we know better in whom we have believed. Had we gone to him without a warrant in his word, had we asked for what is above our privileges—for what the Church never had, or never was intended to have, we might have been punished for our profane ambition; but asking for the Holy Ghost, as he was heretofore possessed by the Church, as we are baptised into the hope of him—asking this gift for holy uses, and asking it in true catholic love to the whole Church of God—which we know in all sincerity and purity of conscience we did—we cannot think such thoughts of God—we dare not—as that he hath cheated and deceived us. Neither will we suffer any one to make such a thing in our hearing. For we can no more bear to have it said of God, that he would cheat his humble and sincere servants asking bread by giving them a stone, asking a fish by giving them a serpent, than we can suffer it to be said of any dear friends; but we will ever resent such a thing as a most gross insult and ignominious slander of our most faithful God. Nay, more we believe that he hath such a care over us, that if we were to ask any thing unworthy of him to grant, or harmful to ourselves to receive, he would withold it, as a father would withold a weapon from his child, however he might desire have it and to use it.

It is most true, indeed, that our God doth visit wicked people with the fruit of their own wickedness; and when they come to ask and inquire of him, setting before them the stumbling blocks of their iniquity, he doth answer them to their own destruction, as is fully taught in the prophet Ezekiel (ch. xiv.) We know, also, that the Lord himself doth deceive prophets who prophesy flattering and smooth things; yea, and he doth sometimes send forth a lying spirit into the mouth of many wicked prophets, in order to cause the people to err (1 Kings, xxii.); and we know, also, that the time is coming, or, rather, is fully come, when the Lord is about to send strong delusion upon all Christendom, that they might believe a lie—that they they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thess. ii. 11, 12); and we are even now prepared for the coming forth of false Christs and false prophets, with signs and wonders, such as would allmost deceive the very elect. (Matt. xxiv.) These things we know, but we stand up fearlessy in the face of all men, and say we are not such persons as the Lord will thus deal with: even our enemies being judges we are a people of blameless walk and conversation, who have suffered, and do daily suffer, much for the truth’s sake. We frequent not the saloons of the noble, nor the tables of the rich; but our resorts are the house of God and the habitations of the poor, to teach them the ways of godliness. Against whom have infidels, and free-thinkers, and heretics of every name, lifted up the hand? Who have stood for the meaning of God’s ordinances in church, and state, and social life? Who have maintained the integrity of the faith as it was once delivered to the saints? Who have wrestled for it? Who have suffered the loss of good name, of honourable place, of friends, and of kindred, as we have done? We do not boast in this, but give God the glory; but we are forced to make mention of it, in order to prevent the slander and malice of our enemies from prevailing with the simple-minded.

There is another consideration, which would be stronger than all these put together with this suspicious generation, which examineth religious questions as an Old Bailey lawyer doth a thief. It is this, that the universal notion current in the Church concerning tongues was, that they were always understood and merely used for preaching in; and, therefore, this thing cannot be imposture, for it is like nothing that men looked for under the name “gift of tongues,” but the very contradiction of (Page 319) all their notions. Now no one doth strike a man a blow upon the face and call him a liar, when he is going to palm himself upon him as an old friend and acquaintance. Imposture it cannot be, for it offendeth all, imposeth upon no one. Secondly, it cannot be deception, for it begins by opening the eyes of every one, and setting us all to rights upon the matter of the gift of tongues in the Church. And, thirdly, it cannot be from Satan, because it leads men from a popular error, that tongues were merely given to preach in, and brings them to know a great truth of Scripture, that they are for communion with God, and edification of the soul in holiness. Now Satan is a hider, and not an exposer of the truth—a leader from God, and not a leader to God. These things I cannot pursue into their details; but it is an argument of great force.

It appears from the narrative given above, that the doctrine which had power to revive the manifestations of the Spirit in the body of Christ, which is the Church, is the doctrine of our union with him by the Holy Ghost,—the union between the Head enthroned in power and glory and the members on the earth encompassed about with infirmities and temptations. In virtue of which union we, though weak and mortal in the flesh, are quickened in the Spirit with all power to put forth and manifest the office and virtues which are resident in Him. This doctrine of “the power of his resurrection” hath not been preaches in the Church since the days of the primitive Church as it hath been preached within these few years: with the knowledge the putting forth of the power did cease, and with the revival of the one came the revival of the other.

If it be true, as the Scriptures teach, and all orthodox divines have ever held, that there is a real union by the Spirit between Christ and his Church, after the nature of the union between the head and the members, which did manifest itself in the primitive Church by the fellowship of his holiness and love, and mind, and power; then, as this union dependeth not upon time, place, and circumstance, but is spiritual, and essential to the church, the wonder is not that there should in our time be the like manifestations of Christ in the body as there were in the apostolic times, but that they should ever have ceased: and I feel assured that, if the Scriptures are to be taken as the rule of Christian faith and the principle of all Christian argument, the burden of proof lies all upon those who maintain they were not intended to continue, and not with those who expect and believe in their revival; for the word of God heareth one, and only one, testimony, which is, that the gifts of the Spirit are as much property of the Church as are the graces; nay, that these two were not separate the one from the other, but the outward and inward forms of the same in-dwelling of Christ. Wherever the gifts of the Spirit are mentioned in the Scriptures, they are spoken of as part and parcel of the Church’s endowment, until the time of her perfection come, and never divided from those moral and spiritual graces, which all confess to be of a permanent endurance. For example, in the institution of Christian baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, which Christ had entered into by going to the Father, and shed down upon the disciples in the form of cloven tongues of fire, is promised as the end and reward of that Holy Sacrament, in connexion with repentance and remission of sins. “Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” Now, no one doubteth that Christian baptism doth convey to the believer the gift of repentance or change of mind towards God, and the remission or putting away of ours sins by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit of Jesus; and why should they doubt that it doth convey also the baptism with the Holy Ghost for speaking with tongues, and prophesying, and other supernatural manifestations of power; seeing that this, no less positively than the other, is held forth to all whom the lord shall call to the knowledge of his Son. Nay, far more specifically and peculiarly do the supernatural manifestations of the Holy Ghost belong to Christian baptism than repentance and remission of sins, which are common to use with John (Mark, i. 4). They who preach baptism as containing no more than regeneration, are but disciples of John the Baptist; for Christ baptiseth not with water (John, iv. 1), but with the Holy Ghost, (Page 320) after the manner which took place on the day of Pentecost (Acts, i. 5). And if the Christian Church be baptised into the thing which took place on the day of Pentecost, we should expect to find that same thing everywhere acknowledged to be in her throughout the apostolic writings. And so it is. After the Church of Jerusalem, which was baptised by Christ himself into this heavenly gift, cometh the Church of Samaria (Acts, viii), which having been evangelised by Philip the deacon, and baptised, was not suffered to remain without the gift of the Holy Ghost, but, being straightway visited by the apostles, was, by the laying on of their hands, endowed with power from on high. Next comes the Church of the Gentiles, first called in the person of Cornelius, the good centurion, and his household (Acts, x. xi.), who, having heard the Gospel at Peter’s mouth, and believed it, were baptised with the Holy Ghost by Christ himself, and then with water by the apostle. Next comes the Church of Ephesus (Acts, xix.), which Paul found walking in the power of John’s baptism of repentance and remission of sins, but as yet entirely ignorant of that work of the Holy Ghost, which began from the day of Pentecost, upon all of whom, having laid his hands they spake with tongues and prophesied. Besides these, we can specify the Churches of Galatia, among whom Paul “ministered the Spirit and wrought miracles” (Gal. iv. 5); and the Church of Corinth, whose endowments are given at length (1 Cor. xii. xiii. xiv.); and the Church of Rome (Rom. xii.); and all the Churches to which Peter’s catholic epistle was addressed (1 Pet. iv. 10, 11.) By these instances, against which there cannot be brought one instance to the contrary, it is put beyond question, that to be baptised with the Holy Ghost, and to put forth supernatural powers of the Divine nature, both inwardly in the holiness and enjoyment of the soul, and outwardly in the works of the Church, is as truly an essential privilege of the Christian Church as to be washed from her sins in the blood of Christ, or to be born again of water and of the Spirit, or to feed upon the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. And that it was the experience of all the churches, as well as of those instanced above, to be endowed with power from on high, and to manifest the gifts of the Holy Ghost, is put beyond question by incidental expressions, occurring everywhere throughout the apostolical writings. For example, in writing to the Corinthians, among whom the gifts were in full exercise, Paul saith, “That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you; so that ye come behind in on gifts, waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This shews that “utterance and knowledge” was the seal and confirmation of the preached and believed Gospel, and that the gifts of the Corinthians were common in the churches, so that they were nothing behind the rest, and that the end of the knowledge, utterance, and gifts, was to keep them waiting for the coming of the Lord. Again, “Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers” (Eph. iv.)—gifts from the true Christ—are declared to be by him given “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the the edifying of the body of Christ,” until it come to its perfection, and to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; that is, until the body be completed in all its members, until the number of the elect be accomplished. Again, “tasting of the heavenly gift,” and “being made partakers of the Holy Spirit,” and “the power of the world to come,” all of which signify the supernatural power, are classed among the first principles of the doctrine of Christ, in company with the enlightening of baptism, and the nourishment of the word, and the resurrection of the dead, &c. (Heb. vi.); and, finally, in Cor. xiii., it is expressly said, that speaking with tongues and prophesying, and the other gifts, still continue until “that which is perfect be come;” and that this is now come, no one but a self-blinded fool will dare to aver.


Digitized by Charles A. Sullivan

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