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The Origins of Dispensationalism Part 3: The English Connection

Barry is the founder and dean of Mindanao Grace Seminary, Philippines.

Who was Edward Irving?

Edward Irving (1792-1834) began his ministry in the Church of Scotland in England. In 1822 he was called to the Caledonian chapel in London as a preacher. He was known as an intelligent but argumentative minister. He was by all outward appearances a success. His congregation grew so rabidly that a new building was constructed at Regent Square in 1827. However it was also around this time that his popularity began to wane do to some of his teachings.

Irving began to veer from the traditional Presbyterian views in areas of eschatology, the person of Christ and the operation of the Holy Spirit. He came to believe that the end of the world was near. He also believed that because Christ would return very soon to the earth that there would be another outpouring of the Holy Spirit similar to what occurred at Pentecost. It is for this reason that many see Irving as a proto-Pentecostal. He encouraged the practice of the apostolic gifts from the book of Acts.

A group was formed in 1826 which was informally known as “ the school of prophets.” In later years they published the magazine entitled Morning Watch (also known as the Quarterly Journal of Prophecy). [1]

It was through published articles and public addresses that Irving began to teach his radical views. He taught that Christ had the ability to sin but was prevented from sinning not because of His deity or because that He was born without a sin nature but rather it was the Holy Spirit that made Him sinless. It naturally follows then that if we have the Holy Spirit we also can be sinless. He was eventually disciplined and removed from the church by the London Presbytery in 1933.


The English Connection

One of the major influences on Irving’s eschatological view was Lacunza’s book The Coming of the Messiah in Glory and Majesty. He was able to acquire a copy and to read it in Spanish. Irving was so impressed with the book that he translated it from Spanish in to English. He also added a lengthy introductory discourse to Lacunza’s work. In the Dedication section of the English translation Irving wrote:

“My soul is greatly afflicted because of the present unawakened and even dead condition of all the churches, with respect to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, which draweth nigh, and which, as I believe, is, close at hand: and having, by God’s especial providence, been brought to the knowledge of a book, written in the Spanish tongue, which clearly sets forth, and demonstrates from Holy Scripture, the erroneous-ness of the opinion, almost universally entertained amongst us, that He is not to come till the end of the millennium, and what you call the last day, meaning thereby the instant or very small period preceding the conflagration and annihilation of this earth; I have thought it my duty to translate the same into the English tongue for your sake, that you may be able to disabuse yourselves of that great error, which hath become the inlet to many false hopes, and will, I fear, if not speedily corrected, prove the inlet to many worldly principles and confederacies, and hasten the ruin and downfall of the present churches.[2]

It is important to note that many believe that Irving did not completely accept all of Lacunza’s teachings. However he did embrace his major ideas. Trough Lacunza’s influence, Irving rejected the Amillennial view of the Presbyterians in favor of the bodily return of Christ to rule on the earth for a literal one thousand year period. [3] What Irving also did to contribute to the development of Futurism/Millennialism was to connect the book of Daniel to the Apocalypse (The book of Revelation). Just as Lacunza wrote his commentary on Revelation, Irving produced a similar work on the Book of Daniel entitled Babylon and the Infidelity Foredoomed by God: A Discourse on the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse, which Relates to Latter Times.[4]

In preface of his book Irving says: “These pages are extracted from a larger work in two volumes, and contain a view of the Prophecies which have been fulfilled within the last 33 years, by the circumstances of the French revolution, the wars of Napoleon, etc.”


"A Discourse on the Prophecies of Daniel"

Irving believed that prophecy as it is presented in the Bible must be divided between discourse and history. He says that history is what actually occurred and is recorded as such in the Scripture. Discourse on the other hand is the explanation of historical events. In application of his approach, he says that the events recorded in the Book of Daniel are historical but they also have a future fulfilment. He says that both prophecies and the historical accounts of the Old Testament and the New Testament point to yet future events.

“The first coming and the second coming of Christ; the first destruction of Jerusalem and the second; the first redemption of Cyrus, and the second by Christ and to those who receive Him. A third greater redemption and deliverance, which hath not yet arrived…” (p.23)

He then proceeds to unpack for the reader the symbolic meanings of the elements given in the dreams recorded in Daniel. He says that the statue which was compose of four metals did represent the historical four kingdoms (”the Babylonian, the Persian, the Macedonian, and the Roman…”).[P.27] He says that the beasts of Daniel are connected to and further explained in the writings of the Apostle John (p.27). But that is not all. These metals and beasts point to a future fulfilment as well. This future fulfilment is recorded in the book of Revelation and the book of Daniel is the key to understanding the book of Revelation.

“But the book of Daniel carries us as upon a voyage of discovery, down the stream of time, noting the various powers which should have the ascendant, and the duration of their times, until the time of the end, when the saints shall posses the kingdom.” P.26)

Irving believed that Daniel is the key to understanding other books of Prophecy. The four metals represent the four earthly kingdoms that have already came to pass however the four beast are different and represent not only the same four previous world kingdoms but also point to a future power that will continue to work through Rome. He does agree with the Reformers that the “little horn” refers to the Papal power (p. 29-30) but says that there is still a future power to come.


Fuether Developments in Dispensational Thought from Irving

Space does not permit me to give a full review of Irving's book. However let us make some observations on the progress of Dispensational thought so far.

1) Lacunza’s work is translated, republished and circulated by Irving.

2) Irving builds upon the work of Lacunza by adding ideas that are still present in contemporary Dispensational thought.

(a) A multiple interpretation of events. Irving says that there is a real historical event that can have multiple fulfilments

(b) Historical events are not limited to one fulfilment and therefore require multiple interpretations. “Double fulfilment” and “double interpretation” is absolutely essential to Dispensationalism, as we shall see.

3) Irving says that the book of Revelation is a continuation of the book of Daniel. Contemporary Dispensationalists teach the same thing. They say that the book of Daniel was closed (Daniel 12:4) and reopened in the book of Revelation.

Go on to Part 4: John Nelson Darby


[1] "Edward Irving Scottish Minister"<https://www.britannica.com/biography/Edward-Irving> July 4, 2018

[2] "THE COMING OF MESSIAH IN GLORY AND MAJESTY BY JUAN JOSAFAT BEN-EZRA, A CONVERTED JEW ," Dedication, Edward Irving, Published by L.B. Steely and Sons, online edition by J.G. Tillin, p.1”

[3] Amillennialism predates the Dispensational view of eschatology. It teaches that the passages in Revelation refer to the Spiritual reign of Christ in the Church through regenerate people.

[4] A scanned copy of the book is available at archives.org <https://archive.org/details/babylonandinfid00irvigoog> Jul 7, 2018

See Part 1

See Part 2

Read "The Life of Edward Irving" HERE