Edward Irving (1792-1834) is undoubtedly my favorite reformer from history. Some may question calling him a reformer, but that is exactly what he was. He participated in the worldwide Second Advent revival in the early 1800’s. His field of ministry was England and Scotland (his birth-place).
His two volumes on the book of Revelation, “Exposition of the Book of Revelation in a Series of Lectures,” originally written in 1831, contain by far the most spiritual comments and explanations of this important book of the Bible, above and beyond any other author before him, and are still well beyond what is taught in most churches today regarding prophecy and how it fits in with the gospel plan.
I’m slowly preparing these two volumes on Revelation and will post them on my prophecy site when they are ready.
Asides from his involvement in the Advent revival, he was a remarkable man in many ways. He combined a deep learning and eloquence, with a sensitive and warm Christian love, especially for the poor, whom he often ministered to when he was training in Scotland. He expected God to do wonderful things through the church before Christ’s appearing, but would not live to see that day, as his life was cut short at a fairly young age (42).
Some recent authors have attempted to paint Edward Irving as one of the founders of the modern-day “Pentecostal” movement, but I believe this is not a fair view of him. It is true that he expected spiritual gifts to come again in the church, in fulfillment of the prophecies of the “latter rain”. The “former rain” was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the early church, which brought in supernatural gifts. He expected the same in the “latter rain” which would be a special endowment of the Holy Spirit’s power before God’s work would close in the earth.
As a result of his preaching this doctrine, some members of his congregation and elsewhere began to manifest some gifts: dreams, prophesying, and tongues. But Irving, although he felt bound to accept some of these manifestations as genuine (and some of them certainly may have been), himself did not participate in this. Those who only look at this aspect of his life, tend to overlook the rich teachings on prophecy and the outworking of God’s plans through Christ in History, which he loved to dwell on, and which constitute a large part of the treasure he has left behind.
He treated the book of Revelation as it was intended to be: an open door into the knowledge of God’s plan through Christ to restore what sin had taken away. Someone wisely once said that “all the books of the Bible meet and have their end in the book of Revelation.” He loved to trace these threads, pulling in analogies, prophecies, types, patterns, and parallels all through the Bible to show how God’s great plan had been unfolding, step by step.
He also taught strongly that Christ had the same fallen sinful flesh as us, with all it’s tendencies to sin, and that Christ’s victory over the flesh was an assurance that we could have the same victory. The Presbyterian church in Scotland eventually charged him with “heresy” for teaching this. But it was not heresy! It was beautiful truth, which many were not able to grasp, and so instead they mistook it for something dangerous (and some still make that mistake today).
In the late 1800’s, this important truth about Christ’s humanity was revived in the teachings of two young Seventh-day Adventists: E.J. Waggoner and A.T. Jones, and later became part of what was known as “the 1888 message.” It is a foundational teaching in the church I belong to, which has it’s roots in that Adventist revival of 1888.
But Irving clearly expounded on the beauty of that truth over 50 years previous to 1888. He even devoted a whole book to the topic of the Incarnation of Christ. The importance of Christ’s identification with humanity is seen in the promise given to Laodicea, the last church of the seven in the book of Revelation:
21 To him that overcomes…even as I also overcame…
Christ overcame, so we can too. This would not be possible if He did not resist the sins that we face through our flesh. The assurance of our victory over sin is that He already went through the battle and won, and now He gives us a life that is able to meet the same temptations in our flesh. He connected His divinity with our humanity in His own flesh, so that sin could be defeated. Now He promises to connect His divinity with our humanity, so that sin can be likewise defeated again.
Irving grasped this truth and saw it’s important connection with the last day events, and the preparation for Christ’s return, and so taught it with all zeal and earnestness, even though it cost him his position with the Scottish Presbytery. Irving was ahead of his time, and this is only one example.
Included in his books on Revelation were a few poems on these prophetic themes, which he wrote. I thought they should see the light of day again, and find a welcome home on this site.