The strange but fascinating story about Edward Irving, his followers known as the Irvingites, their speaking in tongues, and their setting the foundation for the modern tongues movement.
Table of Contents
- Edward Irving and his Followers
- The rise and fame of Edward Irving and the Irvingites
- Tongues according to Irving
- The Irvingite Sound
- Historical Tongues vs Irving Definition
- The Construction of a New Definition
- The fall of Edward Irving and the Irvingites
- Opposition to the Irvingite Movement
- Final Thoughts
A little less than 200 years ago, Edward Irving and his followers were the front and center of the protestant faith around the world.
Irving and his movement awoke the mystical rite of tongues from a long and purposed protestant slumber and propelled their practice to the curiosity and intellectual inquiry of the most significant religious minds of the time.
This movement accidentally helped shape the current doctrine today we call glossolalia.
There is much more to Irving and his world than just tongues, but the focus here is on that subject. References to the social, psychological, and historical motifs behind this phenomenon are only injected whenever necessary. Full coverage of these factors are in development for another article.
Edward Irving was a Scottish clergyman in London, England during the 1830s. A time when
pockets of England were in a period of prophetic expectation and excitement. There was a sense that the end was drawing near and the supernatural gifts of the original Apostles would return.
Margaret Oliphant, one of the foremost biographers of Irving’s life, was a well-known writer of historical fiction, the supernatural, and realism in the late 1800s England.1 Her coverage is one of the most comprehensive and detailed accounts that also incorporates a firm understanding of the Irvingite mindset. She described the end-times anticipation among her generation that allowed the popularity for Edward Irving and his followers :
. . .unclaimed and unexercised supernatural endowments, which had died out of use so long, would be restored only at the time of the Second Advent, in the miraculous reign, of which they form a fitting adjunct.2
She then adds:
that the Holy Ghost ought to be manifested among us all, the same as ever He was in any one of the primitive Churches.3
Irving had this same prophetic feeling and felt the end was very close. He believed that when the Holy Spirit releases for the end of the world, one of the significant expressions of this occurring would be through the appearance of supernatural tongues, or, as he called it, unknown tongues. Oliphant wrote that Irving and the movement found it fulfilled in a woman named Mary Campbell. Here is a portion of the description given by Oliphant:
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…4
Another Biographer in the 1800s, Washington Wilks, remained more decidedly general on who started it and did not ascribe the movement to Campbell:
When therefore, in the spring of 1830, he heard of Scottish women speaking as did the Twelve on the day of Pentecost, he suspected no travestie of that wondrous story, but felt only hope and thankfulness. He despatched an elder to inquire into the thing, who brought back a good report, and found the tongues of flame sitting on his own wife and daughters.5
Margaret Oliphant declared that Mary’s experience was the beginnings of the modern tongues movement, “It was thus that agitating and extraordinary chapter in the history of the modern Church, which we have hereafter to deal with, began.”6 She also added that the movement grew fast and became a national phenomenon, “There is not a corner of this part of the island where the subject of Prophecy and the Second Advent have not in the Church firm and able supporters.”7
Irving was a celebrity. His tall stature, showmanship, oratorial skills, banter, and intellectual mind attracted large audiences. The crowds that followed him in a certain part of Scotland were around 12–13,000 people.8 Irving’s first preaching pulpit in London was at the Caledonian Asylum chapel. He began with 50 people and quickly went up to 1500.9 Seating became a problem and resolved with the issuing of tickets.10
Irving had a wide range of influence. Washington Wilkes described it well:
The Duke of York repeated his visit, and carried with him other members of the royal family. . . .The parliamentary leaders of both sides, and even the Tory premier, Lord Liverpool (much to the lord Eldon’s horror)–the judges, and barristers of every degree–fashionable physicians and medical students–duchesses, noted beauties, city madams–clerics and dissenters–with men and women who rather followed the fashion than made particular to either intellect or religion…11
It also extended to the philosophical arena, where he held a friendship with the philosopher/writer, Thomas Carlyle, an acclaimed figure when London was at its peak of world dominance.12 Carlyle’s community included people such as Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Alfred Tennyson, and John Stuart Mills.
Irving’s end-time fervor, prophecy, and gift of tongues became so popular that some reactionary forces began to develop. Andrew Drummond, the author of Edward Irving and his Circle, described that anti-Irvingite pamphlets were disseminated to counter Irving’s theology and practices.13
In the mid-1820s his popularity diminished but again began a significant upswing in the 1830s. It was a brief moment in time when he allowed the service to include people speaking in tongues. The concept of a tongues revival had become a top story in “every periodical work of the day.”14 It also was very controversial from many standpoints. It put him under the microscope within the National Scotch Church, ultimately leading to his dismissal.
Discovering Irving’s meaning about speaking in tongues is difficult. He referred to the subject often but rarely sought to define it. His approach was inductive. It consisted of the personal reading of the English Bible, followed by linking various texts into a system of thought. He avoided historical references or making any defense. He also gave long and rambling orations that were later put to print. They are drawn out and not straight to the point. The critical meaning is found in the nuances.
For example, the three articles submitted to Fraser’s Magazine on the Manifestations is an aggregation of approximately 17,400 words. He refers to the various iterations of tongues only 54 times. His preference was to use unknown in 28 instances, often without any qualifier, unknown tongues 17 occasions, gift of tongues 12, and other tongues twice. He referenced the word Pentecost nine times while he cited the Book of Acts 11 occasions, and Corinthians 16. It is a lot of words to parse through to find substance.
Although the editor of Fraser’s Magazine was forwarding the controversial manifestations articles for the attention of a wider audience about miracles, the true nature of the work was about the mark of a true Christian. Irving was actively trying to build a new framework to replace the traditional one of his Calvinist and Presbyterian roots. Traditions that he disdained. “. . . I do solemnly declare my belief, that the Protestant churches are in the state of Babylon, as truly as is the Roman church ; and I do separate myself, and my flock standing in me, from that Babylonish confederacy. . .”15
The emphasis on tongues-speaking was central to Irving’s platform. So much so, Thomas Carlyle nicknamed him “gift-of-tongues Irving.”16
When asked what kind of language people were speaking under the influence, “Irving replied that he had not the least idea of the meaning of Tongues,” and “aspired to be no more than the humble pastor of the flock.”17 It is clear from both Oliphant’s history and especially Carlyle’s correspondence that tongues were integral to Irving’s religious experience. His “least idea” statement initially may lead the reader to believe that he was avoiding the definition, but in reality, it was an essential part of his framework.
Irving believed tongues was a sign-gift. One that designated a person as genuinely being a divine emissary, a chosen person of God with words of encouragement, exhortation, or judgment for the church. He did not promote tongues or interpretation as offices for predicting future events. The type of speech or language was unimportant to him. His theology surrounded the idea that if neither the person or audience could not comprehend the utterance, it is is a sign that human intervention, error, manipulation, intellectual play, ritual, or structure are not involved. The Spirit has overridden humankind and the person. What proceeds after that in interpretation or prophecy is straight-up-goods from God.
Here are some quotations that support this, lifted from his various pieces of literature.
“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. . .”18
“The unknown is, so far as concerneth us, the sign that the known is a message from God. . .”19
“This new method of Divine communication is by enforcing the prophet to utter in a tongue unknown to himself the words which God would carry to the people. And because the people also were, except in an accidental case, as at Pentecost, unacquainted with the voice, there was added, in order to convey the substance and meaning of the same, a gift of interpretation, which sometimes was possessed by the speakers and sometimes by others. But that the speaking with tongues was only a method of prophecy, and subsidiary thereto, a work of God’s for shewing that the word was entirely of himself, is manifest from this, . . . that they may assuredly know that the power which is upon the speaker is not power of his own, but power of God.”20
Irving was aware of the weakness of such doctrine that a person could feign the genuine inspiration for their self-gratification. The following demonstrates an attempt to address this problem but failed to rectify it.
The prophet or prophetess speaketh from no text or passage Scripture to reveal the mystery or the doctrine contained in it, as doth he who useth tongues for revelation, but doth address words of exhortation, edification, and comfort so the Church (1 Cor. xiv,. 3), most frequently introduced by words in an unknown tongue, which are the sign of inspiration to those who have love enough to believe, or discernment enough to perceive, or previous acquaintance enough to know, that the person speaking is not making feigned words, in order to pass off some invention of his own for an inspiration of God.”21
J. R. Brown, the moderator of Irving’s appearance at the London Presbytery, understood this definition of the mark of a genuine Christian (called sealing) after one of Irvingites broke into a utterance during the trial. He believed the definition threatens and upends the status quo:
The fact of the interruption being thus proved, we have it in evidence not only that Mr. Irving taught that these individuals were inspired by the Holy Spirit of God, but that the sign or tongue which preceded the English that they uttered was a seal ; and a seal to what ?—a seal to this—that the truth, if it be truth, as stated from the pulpit of Regent Square, is worthy of more credence and acceptance than truth from any other pulpit in the kingdom.”22
A relatively unknown but comprehensive author on the Irvingites in the 1870s, Edward Miller, aggregated many sources together to build a small portrait of their actual tongues speech. The examples sometimes veer into primitive forms of Latin or Spanish, but nicely fit into the category of glossolalic speech. The term glossolalia, which is “utterances approximating words and speech, usually produced during states of intense religious experience,”23 did not exist in any of the early works covering the Irvingites. The introduction of this word into the English language was still decades away.
Amongst them [the tongues speakers] were Mr. Taplin already mentioned, Miss Emily Cardale, Mrs. Caird, Miss Hall, Miss Smith, Mrs. Cardale, and Mr. Baxter. Specimens of their utterances at this time have been preserved. For example,—“Stand on the Word, stand on the written Word, stand on the Word.” Again, “Die daily, die daily, die daily.” And in the “unknown tongue:”—Ythis dil emma sumo, “I will undertake this dilemma ;” Hozeghin alta stare, “Jesus in th highest;” Holimoth holif awthaw, “Holy, most Holy Father;” Hoze hamena nostra, “Jesus will take our hands,” or “direct us;” Casa sera hastha caro, “This house will still be in My care.” The crashing outbreak of Mr. Taplin’s utterances is described as if cras-cran-cra-crash were violently shouted out with a stentorian voice. It was followed by such expressions as, “Abide in Him ! abide in Him ! abide in Him ! Ye shall behold His glory ! ye shall behold His glory ! ye shall behold His glory.” Dr. McNeile distinctly heard Taplin utter amongst other sounds more than once, amamini, amaminor, words which irresistibly remind us of the speaker’s scholastic duties of his “academy.”24
This same type of expression is echoed by a person named Archibald Mackerrell—though he would argue it was a bonafide language. He was a sympathizer with the Irvingite outbreak. Mackerell’s background and relationship with the eruption of tongues in Scotland and London are not known. He recorded tongues-speaking by hand in 1830. He entered some of the results into his book An Apology for the Gift of Tongues and Interpretation, at present manifested in the Church of Christ … And the words of a Vision of Prophecy given to the Church in A.D. 1830:
I now proceed to insert a written specimen of the gift of tongues, as being indispensably necessary on account of the references I have made to it, proving tongues to be a language.—This specimen is a very brief vocabulary of a tongue. It was collected by me on different occasions, in the beginning of this present year, on which I heard the same individual speak in a tongue, and it was written down by me on the spot, while the individual was in the act of speaking.”
“. . .The words of the tongue as written down by me are widely scattered, none in the order they were spoken, except those marked within “ ”; and they are as follow :—
“Forime Ooring Hoopo Tanto Noostin”——
Sastinootino——Alinoosis——“O Fastos Sungor O Fastos Sungor”
g marked as ğ was pronounced hard.
e always pronounced like a in the English word “hare.”
a always pronounced like a in the English word “are.”
i always pronounced lie ee in the English word “seek.”
g without the mark ̑ was also pronounced hard.”25
Irving’s friend and literary genius/philosopher/essayist, Thomas Carlyle also thought it was gibberish—a term we would today call glossolalia. Carlyle and his wife came over to Irving’s house when the manifestations were at their height. The Carlyles heard a madwoman:
. . .burst forth a shrieky hysterical, “Lah lall lall !” (little or nothing else but l’s and a’s continued for several minutes), to which Irving, with singular calmness, said only “There, hear you, there are the Tongues !” And we too, except by our looks which probably were eloquent, answered him nothing, but soon came away, full of distress, provocation, and a kind of shame. “Why was there not a bucket of cold water to fling on the lahlalling hysterical madwoman ?” thought we, or said to one another. “Oh, heaven, that it should come to this !”26
The last evidence that strengthens this perception of glossolalia is from an unlikely source—John Perceval. His body of writing lay unknown for over a 100 years until rediscovered by an anthropologist in 1962, Gregory Bateson. The title and content of Perceval’s book, A Narrative of the Treatment Experienced by a Gentleman, During a State of Mental Derangement has become a historical source document about psychiatry and mental health in nineteenth-century Britain. John Perceval’s experience as a patient in a lunatic asylum compelled him in a lifelong campaign for reforms in this realm. In his book, he wrote about his descent into darkness. Part of his story involved his participation with the church in Row under the leadership of John McLeod Campbell. Rev. Campbell was friends with Edward Irving. Perceval also knew Mary Campbell and had a high opinion of her spiritual abilities.
He described an encounter with an inspired woman who spoke in an uknown tongue. His account demonstrates that the events in London were later representations of the manifestations that were occurring in Glasgow.
One afternoon at Row, in the house of a gentleman, where I was at luncheon, I was first called out to see one of the inspired ladies, who had left the table and desired to speak to me. She was a plain slender young woman, pitted with small pox. I attended her in the drawing room, and when I was alone with her, with her arm raised and moving a kind of serious measure, she addressed me in clear and angelic notes, with sounds like these. “Holo mi hastos, Hola mi hastos, disca capita crustos bustos,” &c. &c. &c. She then cried out “and he led them out to Bethany and said, Tarry ye in Jerusalem until ye are indued with power from on high.”
I have always felt irresistibly inclined to laugh under those circumstances which for the sake of prudence and common sense required of me the utmost gravity. So in this instance, it was with the greatest difficulty that I could command my features. At the conclusion, I asked the meaning what I heard. I understood that the lady thought she had been addressing me by the order of the Holy Spirit, but that she could not explain what her words alluded.27
He proceeded to explain more of this rite on another occasion.
. . .I attended the meeting of the followers of the church at Port Glasgow. Here I heard again a manifestation of tongues, and the scriptures read with an utterance preternatural, and requiring great assurance to practise, because so extraordinary. I never attended these meeting without great conflict of mind, and afterwards depression. I had an anxiety working in me, and a bond pressing down heavy on me. I knew not what I was to do; my mind was in the dark, yet I wanted to be taking an active part. The sounds I heard were at times beautiful in the extreme, resembling the Greek language ; at times they were awfully sublime and grand, and gave me a full perception of that idea ; “the WORD was with GOD, and WORD WAS GOD ;” at times the tone of them querulous and almost ridiculous.28
Many followers of Irving and his movement assumed that the gift of tongues was the miraculous ability to speak in a foreign language and tried to define it this way theologically. There was no antecedent of Irving’s unknown tongues as a divine channel of communication, or as a distinguishing sign of the true Christian in historic literature before this time.
The following were eyewitnesses, participants, or biographers of Edward Irving and the Irvingites, which reflect the common historical and theological expectation of tongues as a miraculous ability to speak one or more foreign languages. They struggled during the Irvingite outbreak with reconciling the old and new definitions. Even Irving had to work through this tension.
In 1825, Irving initially interpreted the gift of tongues at Pentecost for the expansion of the Gospel to the nations:
On the day of Pentecost, when they were furnished with all manner of gifts necessary for the work of converting the nations, there was nothing appertaining to purse or scrip, to power or influence, to name or reputation, bestowed on them.29
In 1828, one can see a shift occurring in his Doctrine of the Incarnation Opened: In Six Sermons where he held a dual usage of a symbol of divine embodiment and the miraculous ability to speak in a foreign language.
“The likelihood is, from the instance of the day of Pentecost, that they were spoken by the nations of the earth. But it is a gross error to suppose that the use of them was at all analogous to that which by learning a man acquires of a foreign language. Their mind was not in the tongue at all : they understood it not, neither could they interpret it, otherwise than by supernatural gift. No one understood what they said. Their spirit perceived the matter, and held communion with God in acts of spiritual worship through the tongue, which indicates the closest contact with God, a drinking from the breasts of His instruction.”
“. . .because it is but the sign of a universal truth, concerning the communication between God and man, through Christ and the Holy Ghost, without any intervention ; and that this is the only way through which the weary and heavy-laden sinner can come to rest.”30
By 1830, the idea of the original Pentecost is all but lost in his writings. It appears that he was dodging the subject whenever the occasion allowed him to address. He would move his argument to the Book of Corinthians when the topic came up. It left a big hole in his premise.
Archibald Mackerrell took it upon himself to fill in this theological gap about Pentecost with a very semantically diverse and circular type of reasoning:
Tongues are therefore a symbolical and mystical language, unintelligible to those who hear them, but referring to something else in which their meaning is expressed and fully understood;–and that is the gift of intepretation of tongues. (See 1 Cor. xii. 10, &c.) It will, I anticipate, be objected to this, that the tongues spoken at Pentecost being understood among the multitude, were an exception to this. —I thank God that if they were indeed an exception not to this only, but also to the tongues spoken in the Church at Corinth, and in the Church at Ephesus, and in the Church at Caesarea. An exception on the single occasion of Pentecost cannot overthrow the regular character of the gift as foretold of old, and as afterwards exhibited in the Churches of the Apostolic age–an exception elsewhere proves the rule, and why not here?
. . .The manifestation at Pentecost comprised both the gift of tongues and the gift of interpretation. Each of the several nations present were addressed in tongues ; but then, each nation only in the tongues of other nations ; and when its own vernacular tongue was spoken, this was not to it a tongue, viz. a language not understood, a sign, a symbol from God ; but this then became the gift of interpretation exercised by the Apostle towards that nation ; while at the same time this was a tongue unto all the other nations ; and vice-versa, what was interpretation to them was tongues unto it. This knowing to be the truth of God I maintain unto the death.31
He goes on to describe the tongues of Corinth to be unintelligible to both the speaker and hearer.
The scriptural character of the gift of Tongues has now been shewn to be—that tongues are unintelligible to both speaker and hearer, and are purely a symbolical, a mystical language from God, the meaning of which is made intelligible only by an entirely different gift, the gift of interpretation of tongues.—There now remains to be compared with this, the character of the tongues endowed upon the church amidst us within the last fifteen months. These tongues are now endowed on fifteen individuals, (four of whom are men, and the rest females) none of whom have ever understood what they speak—nor has there been a single instance in which any of these tongues have been understood by any of their auditors. This therefore is a perfect parallel to the gift of tongues recorded in Scripture, and identifies itself as the same gift.32
George Pilkington’s first-hand experience with Edward Irving strengthens this public perception. He participated in Irving’s Church, assuming the glossaly as nuances of different mixed languages. He attempted to expound translations publicly. In his autobiographical writing, The Unknown Tongues discovered to be English, Spanish, and Latin; and the Rev. Edward Irving proved to be erroneous in attributing their utterance to the influence of the Holy Spirit, he outlined the perceived failures, specifically about the use of glossaly in the public worship. In the initial try, Irving and his leaders called him to a special meeting, by which he was told, “You cannot interpret by human understanding; interpretation must be given by the Spirit.”33
Pilkington’s publication reached the eyes of Irving. Irving responded that the assumption of foreign languages was wrong and had Irving better articulated his framework at that time, he would have immediately set Pilkington straight.
In this that poor man, Mr. Pilkington, who hath written his own shame and infamy to the world, deceived himself, not or anyone else, labouring by a smattering of languages, and an enthusiastic mind, thinking he did God service, to come at the purport of the words which were uttered in the tongue. He tried it by translation and enthusiasm. Had he been ingenuous, I could have set him right at once, having written, fully a year ago, upon the nature of these gifts, and understood them then substantially as I understand them now. . .34
Robert Baxter, a close and controversial associate to Irving, initially believed these expressions as a foreign language, for when he spoke in tongues, he had no control over the languages he thought he was speaking:
. . .of which he recognised Latin and French, both of which he appears to have understood previously; and Italian, which his wife recognised; and a fourth language, which she declared to be Spanish. Mr. B. forgets to state whether he had ever studied these latter languages, and he confesses that his wife neither remembered nor was able to translate what he spoke in them.35
One must note that Baxter recanted on all that he had said or done later on, but the quote above still validly reflects what the prevailing opinion was at the time.
Another entry is gleaned from a writing called, A Morning Visit to The Rev. E. Irving’s; and an Inquiry into the alleged return to the Church of the Gift of Tongues, authored by the fictional name of Anti-Cabala. Why the person used a pseudonym is not known but appears intelligent and very aware of matters about the Christian faith. He does not like the Irvingites and has a desire to uncover their practices. This person stated that their idea of tongues was not consistent with the traditional understanding of Pentecost:
The tongues spoken by the early Christians were invariably known languages, and understood, at least as to their general import, by the persons miraculously enabled to speak them: for although they might not be able to interpret, which may be conceived, they could not but be aware, in a general way, if not able to designate the language, of what the words they used signified.38
A person named Vero Catholicus offers an important observation about Irving’s definition. She visited Edward’s Church around 1830. We hardly have any information on her except for an observation given for the Female Members of the Church of Christ in Toronto. She was not convinced by Irving’s proposal of tongues as a revelatory language:
I accordingly took convenient lodgings in London and attended Mr. Irving’s Lectures, &c. especially at 6 every morning for about a week, when he closed his lectures on “the Unknown Tongues.” His reasoning to prove that the unknown tongue spoken in the apostolic times as well as by themselves, was in many instances a language not spoken or understood by any people of the earth, and only to be comprehended by immediate revelation, was to my mind quite unsatisfactory and inconclusive. . .39
John B. Cardale
A clue can be gleaned from J. B. Cardale, a lawyer, supporter of the tongues-sign movement, and a major figure in the Regent Square church controversies. He witnessed first-hand the tongues outbreak in Glasgow that started the movement and worked its way to Irving’s church in London.
In April 1830, he was undecided on whether it was a human or divine language. His compositions demonstrate that the Irvingite movement was initially not solidified on the topic of unknown tongues at the outset. They were still looking for answers to fit their theological outlook.
The tongues spoken by all of the several persons, in number nine, who had received the gift are perfectly distinct in themselves and from each other. J. M’D.40 speaks two tongues, both easily discernible from each other. I easily perceived when he was speaking in the one, and when in the other tongue. J. M’D. exercises his gift more frequently than any of the others’ and I have heard him speak for twenty minutes together, with all the energy of voice and action of an orator addressing an audience. The language which he then, and indeed generally uttered, is very full and harmonious, containing many Greek and Latin radicals, and with inflections also much resembling those of the Greek language. I also frequently noticed that he employed the same radical with different inflections ; but I do not remember to have noticed his employing two words together, both of which as to root and inflection, I could pronounce to belong to any language with which I am acquainted.
. . . I conceive, that though a real language may possibly, to one unacquainted with it, sound like a jargon, yet a mere jargon, unless put together with skill—in other words, unless actually formed into a language—will sound like a jargon, and nothing else, to any person who is at all acquainted with the formation of languages ; or, indeed will consider that all the sounds of any given language are in the same key ; and that language is either inflected, or, where uninflected, its roots must, in order to fulfil (Pg. 872) the purpose of a language, be combined with each other in an infinite variety.41
J. H. Mann
James Hargrave Mann was the chairman appointed to lead a committee that was to examine Irving’s ministerial conduct. They were to present those findings to the London Presbytery, which, in the end, resulted in Irving’s discharge. Hargrave’s background has little documentation, except that his views expressed throughout the London trial of Edward Irving were more theological than many of his counterparts. They leaned more on Irving’s adherence or lack thereof to already established codes of conduct. Mann’s internal knowledge of the affairs of the church leads one to think that he was a part of Regent Square Church led by the Reverend Irving.
In a letter written on November 2, 1831, Mr. Mann directed a letter to Irving which was partially concerned about the gift of tongues.
FIRST. What are the nature and characteristics of those representations which the Word of God—the only unerring standard of truth and doctrine (as well to churches as to ministers, or to private individuals), has given of the gift of tongues, and which alone can prove the nature of them ?
SECONDLY. For what purpose was the gift of tongues imparted ?
THIRDLY. In what way were they to be exercised ?
FOURTHLY. What place did they occupy in the gifts to the church ; and what was the importance attached to them in the apostle’s times ?
FIFTHLY. What is said of their duration ?42
Mann goes on to describe that “tongues mean a definite language, in all the Scriptures.” He also understood “that it was absolutely necessary for the promulgation of the gospel of God.” He added his thoughts on Corinthians to mean that they were words easy to understand. Furthermore, women should not teach or speak publicly. He felt that the gift of tongues had ceased.43
The five questions were critical ones to ask Irving and would have led to many clarifications. The question on the traditional interpretation of miraculous foreign tongues vs. Irving’s idea of unknown tongues was especially important. However, by submitting his presumptions about the above questions, gave Irving the right not to engage. Here was his reply.
To J. H. Mann, Esq.
At the last meeting of the Session, I caused your letter to be read in their hearing ; and it was our common mind to return you thanks for the pains which you had taken to investigate the subject ; as also for the feeling which moved you to lay the result of your investigations before them. Several of us disagree with your conclusions ; but that did not prevent us from honouring the pains and intention manifested in your communication.
(Signed) EDWARD IRVING.
London, February 7, 1832.44
She believed the first person credited with speaking in tongues, Mary Campbell, to have miraculously spoken in the language of the Pelew Islands.45 Today, the region is known as Palau—a group of islands between the Philippines and Indonesia. A faraway place where less than 20,000 people spoke Paluan.46 Due to limited travel conditions, few or none who resided in London or the British Isles could confirm such a miracle. This choice is suspicious. On another occasion, it was thought Turkish or Chinese.47 The definition immediately became a source of discussion. For example, there was an account of a member of the Regent Square Church who argued that the gift of tongues was not a short-cut to missionary success.48 These two examples infer that the Irvingites initially believed the gift of tongues was xenoglossolalia.
The language of the South Sea’s Islands is further illustrated by a Reverend Robert Story, who lived, worked, and associated with names familiar to the Irvingite saga. He too chronicles that Mary Campbell believed she miraculously spoke in a foreign language:
On a Sunday evening in the month of March, Mary, in the presence of a few friends, began to utter sounds to them incomprehensible, and believed by her to be a tongue such as of old might have been spoken on the day of Pentecost, or among the Christians of Corinth. This was the first manifestation of the restored “gift,” —for such it was imagined to be. She desired to ascertain what the tongue was, in oder that she might, if strengthened to do so, repair the country where it was intelligible, and there begin her long-contemplated labours. By and by she announced that she believed it to be the language of a group of islands in the Southern Pacific Ocean ; but, as nobody knew the speech of the islanders, it was impossible either to refute or corroborate her assertion ; and, for the present at least, she was unable to proceed in person in quest of the remote savages, whose mother tongue she held had been revealed to her.49
Oliphant also noted that there was a discrepancy between the definition at the start of the movement and later on, “the hypothesis of actual languages conferred seems to have given way to that of a supernatural sign attestation of the intelligible prophecy.”50
She did not proceed to explain this any further.
Irving and his followers would likely object to Campbell miraculously speaking in one or more foreign languages. In his first address to Fraser’s Magazine, he referred a letter written by Mary Campbell on her experience. From it, he described it was an unknown tongue that she spoke:
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. . . .When, in the midst of their devotion, the Holy Ghost came with mighty power upon the sick woman [Mary Campbell] 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. . .51
This creates tension about the actual history of Mary Campbell speaking in tongues. Did she first miraculously speak in one or more foreign languages, or was it in an unknown tongue?
There are two ways to look at the evidence. The first one suggests that Irving had redacted her experience to fit in with his theological framework.
The second is that Irving did not invent the idea of unknown tongues. He was the spokesperson for an event and practice first created and modified by the Glasgow prophets and prophetesses. They changed it. His celebrity status gave it authority and allowed their stance to perpetuate. John Perceval’s narration indicates the switch to unknown tongues happened early on in Glasgow. Thomas Carlyle asserted that Mary Campbell,52 other women,53 and pointed out Irving’s wife as a potential “beginner of it all,”54 were major sources for the tongues phenomenon.
A later author in 1937, Andrew Drummond described in his book, Edward Irving and his Circle, that Irving originally understood it as the miraculous ability to speak in one or more foreign languages. He believed Irving then later changed his position. He moved from the historic traditional position to that of a dual one. Drummond refers to Irving’s final article submitted to Fraser’s Magazine to support his thesis but falls short of making a strong case:
The final article in Fraser’s Magazine appeared in April, 1832. He opens by claiming that tongue-speech was same form of utterance given at Pentecost; whereas in his March article he distinctly denied that glossolalia in his time was designed as a miraculous way of evangelising by languages unlearnt – Pentecost being unique and modern manifestations resembling rather those at Corinth.”55
The references that Drummond found in Fraser’s cannot be found. Perhaps they are ascertained underneath the semantics. Readers of this blog perhaps can solve this clue in your feedback.
Final Thoughts on Historic vs. Irvingite Tongues
The concept of tongues with the importance of a sign instead of a miraculous language acquisition did not gather full acceptance within the greater faith community. It was a new phenomenon with no antecedent in history. The years surrounding 1830 was where this definition was added to the christian doctrine of tongues.
Did Irving and his Circle come up with this new definition themselves or did they borrow from some other source?
Irving had the intellectual capacity to come up with his definition and also to borrow from the literary and philosophical community. He was well-read and aware of the current theology. Wilks described him this way, “though devoted to the pulpit, he had prepared himself for a possible application to the bar, and indeed for any learned profession. He added large classical knowledge to his mathematical excellence, and acquaintance with the modern languages and their literature to both”.56 The naming of his literary favorites also demonstrates a strong intellectual capacity: “I fear not to confess that Hooker, and Taylor, and Baxter, in theology; Bacon, and Newton, and Locke, in philosophy; have been my companions, as Shakespeare, and Spencer, and Milton, have been in poetry.”57 He also treasured the works of the Spanish Jesuit priest, Manuel Lacunza. It inspired him to publish a translation of Lacunza’s work regarding the second coming in 1827.58 More importantly was his close relationship with Thomas Carlyle who lived with him for a brief period and was a writer concentrating on German literature for English Magazines.59
At the same time Irving redefined tongues as an unknown tongue not understood by the people on earth, German theologians introduced a similar sentiment with the Irvingites albeit from a more scientific perspective. Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer, in his book, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Epistles to the Corinthians, attributed the redefinition to two German scholars, Friedrich Bleek, and FC Baur.60 “Bleek believes that glôssai is a poetic, inspired mode of speech, whereas Baur believes it to be “a speaking in a strange, unusual phrases which deviate from the prevailing use of language.” – partly borrowed from foreign languages.”61 Meyer does not indicate exactly when Bleek or Baur introduced this thinking but does date the opposition to it; 1829 for Bleek, and 1830 for Baur, which falls right into the same years as Irving’s prominence
It was 1830 when the Scottish women first spoke in tongues which began the Irvingite movement, and it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Irving syncretized this German definition within the context of their experience, especially when the original meaning was failing.
Irving had made the personal decision to allow the practice of utterances in all the Regent Church services. This addition became very disruptive. The Trustees of the Regent Square Church advised Irving that this gift no longer be part of the Sunday worship service, but free to do otherwise on any other day. Irving refused, “If it be so, it will be simply because I have refused to allow the voice of the Spirit of God to be silence in this church. . . And now I am ready to go forth and leave them, if the Lord’s will be so. If we should be cast out for the truth, let us rejoice; yea, let us exceedingly rejoice,”62 believing it to be an unholy thing to deny such an expression and if forced to do so, he would resign.
The London Presbytery took full attention to this matter in 1832. They charged him with allowing the Church service to be interrupted on the Sabbath, speaking by people not licensed; neither members or seatholders, allowing females to speak, and for the church service to have time for the gifts. Note that they neither address tongues or prophecy in their charges.63 The Presbytery concluded
…that the charges in said complaint are fully proven; and therefore, while deeply deploring the painful necessity thus imposed upon them, they did and hereby do, decern that the said Rev. Edward Irving has rendered himself unfit to remain the minister of the National Scotch Church aforesaid, and ought to removed therefrom, in pursuance of the conditions of the trust-deed of the church.64
The Times newspaper gave a stiff indictment on Irving and his band of tongues speakers:
It would, indeed, have been a subject of wonder had they come to a different conclusion, though they had the benefit of a concert upon the ‘tongues’ from the whole male and female band of Mr. Irving’s select performers….– when he profaned the sanctuary of God, but introducing hideous interluded of ‘the unknown tongues,’ it was impossible any longer to tolerate the nuisance.65
Irving and associates began a new independent Church, which later evolved into the Catholic Apostolic Church. Although he was one of the central figures in the initial development, he was not considered the founder.
Two years after his deposement, Irving died of tuberculosis in 1834.
Edward Miller, in his book, The History and Doctrines of Irvingism or of the So Called Catholic and Apostolic Church stated that the practice of tongues within their ranks ceased before 1878.
Again, the strange travesty of the events of the Day of Pentecost adds much to confirm suspicion. True, that the “Unknown Tongues” are now things of the past, and are no longer heard in the Catholic Apostolic Churches. But this fact only proves the doubt which they must be regarded by the Members themselves.66
The Catholic Apostolic Church itself died out in 1901.67
The broad evangelical movement in that century did not accept the theology of the Irvingites or the Catholic Apostolic Church as a fundamentalist standard. Instead, many, if not most, exemplified them as frauds and charlatans, as the following examples provide.
The Christian examiner and Church of Ireland magazine 1833, wrote:
I am strongly inclined to adopt Mr. Baxter’s opinion, and conclude that there really is now, as there was in the case of the French prophets, and that of other honest but misled souls, a special agency of the evil spirit, and that Mr. Irving and Sir R. Bulkeley are the passive subjects and victim of supernatural delusion, so as to believe a lie.68
The great Ulster revival in 1859, in which William Arthur, a leader and extensive writer on the subject, was well aware of the Irving doctrine of tongues. He ridiculed the doctrine as non-traditional and made a clear separation from it:
THEY began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” It is not said, “with unknown tongues.” In fact, the expression, “unknown tongues,” was never used by an inspired writer. In the Epistle to the Corinthians, it is found in the English version but the word “unknown” is in italics, showing that it is not taken from the original. Speaking unknown tongues was never heard of in the apostolic days. That miracle first occurred in London some years ago. On the day of Pentecost no man pretended to speak unknown tongues; but just as if we in London suddenly began to speak German, French, Spanish, Russian, Turkish, and other foreign languages, so it was with them.69
If this was not enough, he sharpened his ax even more against the Irving doctrine of tongues:
We are not called upon to say, that it will never be restored to the Church; for that is never said in the word of God; nor should we ridicule or talk disrespectfully of the faith of any Christian who devoutly expects its restoration. All we say is that we have not scriptural ground to claim it as one of the permanent gifts of the Spirit; and we may add that if it ever return to the Church, it will be, not a mystification but a miracle a real speaking with “other tongues” not a speaking in some unheard of, unknown tongue.70
Mr. Arthur took the traditional Church position that the gift of tongues was the ability to speak in the spontaneous endowment of a foreign language for missionary purposes.71
William Gibson, another eyewitness writer on the Ulster revival, wrote that Ulster was one of the greatest movements since Pentecost “… a work has had its rise in the past year, not inferior in interest and importance to any, even the most striking manifestations of the Spirit of God, that have been witnessed since the pentecostal period itself.”72 And of containing, “the occasional suspension of the bodily powers, as indicated by the loss of speech, sight, and hearing; the subjects of them affected as in a trance –deaf, dumb, blind, and motionless–while they would frequently fall into a sleep, in which they continued for hours, and the commencement and termination of which the intimated beforehand to the bystanders,”73 did not contain the gift of tongues as one of his expressions. He was actively trying to distance himself and the Ulster revival from the Irvingites and their ecstasies.
The British historian, Thomas Arnold, tried to make sense of the tongues outbreak and concluded, “(In answer to a question about Irvingism at Port Glasgow.) . . . If the thing be real I should take it merely as a sign of the coming of the day of the Lord, – the only use, as far as I can make out, that ever was derived from the gift of tongues.”74
The Irvingites and the Gift of Tongues were temporarily at the forefront of the religious community and the Western world for a brief period but was quickly marginalized. However, as Margaret Oliphant noted, it was the start of the modern tongues movement, setting the framework for a more prominent manifestation in the years to come.
- A local review of Oliphant
- Margaret T. OliphantThe Life of Edward Irving, Minister of the National Church, London: Hurst and Blackett, Publishers. 1862. Vol. 2. pg. 104.
- IBID Oliphant. Vol. II. Pg. 105
- IBID Oliphant, Vol. II. Pg. 129. She was drawing from Irving’s account.
- Washington Wilks. Edward Irving: And Ecclesiastical and Literary Biography. London: William Freeman. 1854. Pg. 204.
- IBID Oliphant Vol. II Pg. 130
- Margaret T. Oliphant The Life of Edward Irving, Minister of the National Church, London: Hurst and Blackett, Publishers. 1862. Vol. II. Pg. 118
- Dumfries, Scotland. IBID Oliphant. Vol. II. Pg. 85
- Washington Wilks. Edward Irving: And Ecclesiastical and Literary Biography. London: William Freeman. 1854. Pg. 31.
- IBID Wilks. Pg. 32.
- Washington Wilks. Edward Irving: And Ecclesiastical and Literary Biography. London: William Freeman. 1854. Pg. 31.
- Carlyle Letters found in the Duke Journals.
- Andrew Landale Drummond. Edward Irving and his Circle. London: J. Clarke & Co., Ltd. Pg. 181
- IBID Oliphant pg.170
- Edward Irving. The Trial of the Rev. Edward Irving, M.A., Before the London Presbytery. London: W. Harding. 1832. Pg. 50. He also prefaced in his introduction to the Fraser Magazine articles that “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.” Fraser’s Magazine. Volume 4. 1831-1832. Aug-Jan
- TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 15 August 1834; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18340815-TC-JAC-01
- Andrew Landale Drummond. Edward Irving and his Circle. London: J. Clarke & Co., Ltd Pg. 172
- See the digitized version Facts Connected with Recent Manifestations of Spiritual Gifts at charlesasullivan.com or the original at Fraser’s Magazine. Volume 5. No. 25. February, 1832 Pg. 761
- See the digitized version On Recent Manifestations of the Spiritual Gifts. No. II at charlesasullivan.com or the original at Fraser’s Magazine. Volume 5. No. 25. February, 1832 Pg. 200
- Edward Irving. The Day of Pentecost, Or, The Baptism with the Holy Ghost, A Treatise in Three Parts: I. – The Promise Contained in All the Scriptures. II. – The Fulfilment on the Day of Pentecost. III. – The Effect in the Edification of the Church. London: Ellerton and Henderson. 1831. Pg. 65–66
- See the digitized version On Recent Manifestations of the Spiritual Gifts. No. II at charlesasullivan.com or the original at Fraser’s Magazine. Volume 5. No. 25. February, 1832 Pg. 202
- Edward Irving. The Trial of the Rev. Edward Irving, M.A., Before the London Presbytery. London: W. Harding. 1832. Pg. 83.
- Edward Miller. The History and Doctrines of Irvingism. London: C. K. Paul & Co. Pg. 1878
- Archibald Mackerrell. An Apology for the Gift of Tongues and Interpretation, at present manifested in the Church of Christ … And the words of a Vision of Prophecy given to the Church in A.D. 1830. Greenock: W. Johnston. 1831. Pg. 11–12
- Thomas Carlyle. Reminiscences. New York: C. Scribner’s. 1881. Pg. 252. In a previous edition of this article, it was stated that Irving himself spoke at this moment instead of the madwoman. This was incorrect. It is a matter of debate whether Irving spoke in tongues.
- John Perceval. A Narrative of the Treatment Experienced by a Gentleman, During a State of Mental Derangement. London: Effingham Wilson. 1838. Pg. 19–20. (The 1840 version does not contain this information)
- IBID Perceval. 1838. Pg. 23
- Edward Irving. For Missionaries After the Apostolical School, A Series of Orations : in Four Parts (Part 1) London: Hamilton, Adams, and Co. 1825. Pg. 57
- The Collected Writings of Edward Irving in Five Volumes. G. Carlyle, ed. Vol. 5. London: Alexander Strahan. Pg. 558
- Archibald Mackerrell. An Apology for the Gift of Tongues and Interpretation, at present manifested in the Church of Christ … And the words of a Vision of Prophecy given to the Church in A.D. 1830. Greenock: W. Johnston. 1831. Pg. 6–7
- Archibald Mackerrell. An Apology for the Gift of Tongues and Interpretation, at present manifested in the Church of Christ … And the words of a Vision of Prophecy given to the Church in A.D. 1830. Greenock: W. Johnston. 1831. Pg. 7
- No Author Given. Revelation–The “Tongue.” As found in Monthly Review. Vol. 1. London: G. Henderson. 1832. Pg. 33. From the copy found at Monthly Review
- Edward Irving. On Recent Manifestations of the Spiritual Gifts. Part II. Fraser’s Magazine. Volume 5. No. 25. February, 1832. Pg. 203
- Urban, Sylvanus. REVIEW.–The Unknown Tongues. The Gentleman’s Magazine. London: William Pickering. Vol. 1. 1834. Pg. 207
- Anti-Cabala. A Morning Visit to The Rev. E. Irving’s; and an Inquiry into the alleged return to the Church of the Gift of Tongues. London: J. Kelly, Vigo Street, Regent-Street. 1832. Pg. 15ff36
The person then concludes on the true nature:
To say the least, the assumption of a power to speak with other tongues (not known tongues, or foreign languages) is the very part imposture might have been expected to select.37Anti-Cabala. A Morning Visit to The Rev. E. Irving’s; and an Inquiry into the alleged return to the Church of the Gift of Tongues. London: J. Kelly, Vigo Street, Regent-Street. 1832. Pg. 26
- Vero Catholicus. Address to the Female Members of the Church of Christ in Toronto. Toronto: W.J. Coates. 1937. Pg. 4 as found at canadiana.org
- James MacDonald, credited as one of the first tongue speakers in the modern era
- The Morning Watch; Or Quarterly Journal on Prophecy, and Theological Review. London: James Nisbet. 1831. Pg. 871
- Edward Irving. The Trial of the Rev. Edward Irving, M.A., Before the London Presbytery. London: W. Harding. 1832. Pg. 55
- Edward Irving. The Trial of the Rev. Edward Irving, M.A., Before the London Presbytery. London: W. Harding. 1832. Pg. 56ff
- Edward Irving. The Trial of the Rev. Edward Irving, M.A., Before the London Presbytery. London: W. Harding. 1832. Pg. 54. The way the book is laid out, there is a slight chance that Irving is referring to a different letter. Highly unlikely, but am obligated to mention this to the readers.
- Margaret T. Oliphant The Life of Edward Irving, Minister of the National Church, London: Hurst and Blackett, Publishers. 1862. Vol. II Pg. 206
- This is based on contemporary statistics found at Wikipedia. The total would likely be much lower in the early 1800s.
- IBID Oliphant Vol. II pg. 206
- Andrew Drummond. Edward Irving and his Circle. London: J. Clarke & Co., Ltd. 1937. Pg. 183
- Robert Herbert Story (Son of Robert Story). Memoir of the Life of the Rev. Robert Story. Cambridge: Macmillan and Co. 1862. Pg. 204–205
- Margaret T. Oliphant The Life of Edward Irving, Minister of the National Church, London: Hurst and Blackett, Publishers. 1862. Vol. II. Pg. 206
- Fraser’s Magazine. Volume 4. 1831-1832. Aug-Jan
- TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 21 October 1831; DOI 10.1215/lt-18311021-TC-JAC-01
- TC TO MARGARET A. CARLYLE; 20 October 1831; DOI 10.1215/lt-18311020-TC-MAC-01
- TC TO MARGARET A. CARLYLE; 10 November 1831; DOI 10.1215/lt-18311110-TC-MAC-01. One must be cautious on this point. There was animosity between the Carlyle and Irving camps over previous relationships and affections.
- Andrew Landale Drummond. Edward Irving and his circle. London: J. Clarke & Co., Ltd. 1937. Pg. 164
- IBID Wilks. Pg. 7.
- IBID Wilks. Pg. 127.
- as found at Wikipedia’s account of Edward Irving.
- Meyer, Heinrich August Wilhelm. Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Epistles to the Corinthians. Edinburgh: T & T Clark. Translated by D.D. Bannerman. W.P. Dickson, editor. 1887. Pg. 366.
- IBID Meyer. Pg. 371
- Margaret T. Oliphant The Life of Edward Irving, Minister of the National Church, London: Hurst and Blackett, Publishers. 1862. Vol. II. Pg. 246
- IBID Oliphant. Vol. II. Pg. 261
- IBID Oliphant. Vol. II. Pg. 297
- IBID Oliphant. Vol. II. Pg. 298
- Edward Miller. The History and Doctrines of Irvingism or of the So Called Catholic and Apostolic Church. Vol. II. London: C. Kegan Paul & Co. 1878. Pg. 239
- See the Wikipedia entry on the Catholic Apostolic Church
- The Christian Examiner and Church of Ireland magazine for 1833; Dublin: William Curry, Jun. and Company. 1833. Pg. 419
- William Arthur. The Tongue of Fire. London: Hamilton, Adams and co. 1859. Pg. 68. Miracle is italicized in the original text as a form of mockery.
- William Arthur. The Tongue of Fire. London: Hamilton, Adams and co. 1859. Pg. 156
- William Arthur. The Tongue of Fire. London: Hamilton, Adams and co. 1859. Pg. 69-72
- William Gibson. The Year of Grace: A History of the Revival in Ireland, A.D. 1859. Boston: Gould and Lincoln. 1860. Pg. 24
- IBID. Pg. 145
- Arthur Penrhyn Stanley. The Life and Correspondence of Thomas Arnold, D.D. London: B. Fellowes. 1845. Pg. 311