Revised April 12, 2013
What Did Wm Irvine Believe and Teach?
John Long's description of Irvine: "In either secular or religious matters, he was a born leader of men; he was a holy man, and practical. In personal dealing, he was preeminently the best conversationalist I ever met, and skilful in soul winning. He had a marvellous insight into the deep things of God's word, and like his Master, was an apt teacher of all who received the truth with pleasure. He always set forth the cross, and was a swift witness against all pride, vainglory and hypocrisy; he was severe on Christians, but merciful to sinners. In prayer, praise, and preaching he excelled in joy, liberty, and power. He was very much opposed and misunderstood by religious people; nevertheless, the common people liked him and heard him gladly." (John Long's Journal March, 1897)
Goodhand Pattison's description of Irvine: "But here comes a man, a complete stranger, without pedigree, prestige or credentials worth the meaning, only on fire with loyalty and love for God and souls; unfettered and unhindered by traditions and opinions of men, and with an untiring energy and consuming zeal. He dared to be, do or suffer in obeying God (as he then understood it) whatever it meant or cost 'in labors more abundant,' 'through evil report and good report' - he just went on, in face of much within and without to thwart and hinder; becoming in a comparatively short time the wonder and admiration of many, and the object of envy and opposition of many others. Even some who never followed in his footsteps much farther than as ordinary hearers in his earlier mission were wont to admit they had never seen anyone who came nearer to what Jesus must have been like - while others of the more distinctly religious type, not relishing his plainness of speech in exposing what most would have to admit was only too true, were wont to say of him "his words are galling." (G. Pattison in Account of the Early Days)
John Long wrote: "Concerning conducting meetings and missions, something could be learned from Irvine's methods; he had no fixed forms or stereotyped methods of prayer, praise, and preaching; yet he did it with order and reverence. He seldom prepared his sermons beforehand but was a constant student of the Bible; and brought forth out of that treasure things new and old. He occasionally threw his meetings open for prayer but encouraged shortness and definiteness. He had plenty of singing, and was careful in selecting hymns suitable for the occasion, and kept young converts at the same ones until they had thoroughly learned them. He always valued God's gifts in others and utilised any person who could sing Solos effectually to the Glory of God. He seldom had after meetings but tested his meetings immediately after his sermon, without dismissing his audience and nearly always was successful. He often had testimony meetings; and encouraged shortness, and up to date testimonies; and always tried to get young converts to speak, sing and pray. Sometimes he closed the meetings by singing the doxology; and at times made them grasp each other's hands and sing "Keep me true Lord to Thee." (John Long's Journal, April, 1898)
THE GREAT AWAKENING: There was a Spiritual Awakening at the turn of the century, an outpouring of preaching activity and conversion of many in Ireland and Scotland. The Awakenings were characterized by widespread revivals led by evangelical Protestant ministers, a sharp increase of interest in religion, a profound sense of conviction and redemption on the part of those affected, an increase in evangelical church membership, and the formation of new religious movements and denominations. The work of Todd, Duff, Irvine and Long were some movements, among others. However, not all became exclusive as Irvine's movement did.
KESWICK's DOCTRINE: The annual Keswick Conventions began in 1875 and included speakers from many denominations, with a central theme of Christian holiness. This convention influenced John George Govan, who later founded The Faith Mission in Scotland. Govan was also strongly influence by Dwight L. Moody; he attended about 40 of Moody's meetings. Keswick Conventions is classified as a "holiness movement." Keswick was not a church. The Keswick conventions exist for “the promotion of scriptural holiness,” and for “the promotion of practical holiness.” It has as its aim the deepening of spiritual life. It seeks to proclaim “liberty from sin” and the reality of “life more abundant,” through the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit. Keswick's goals are to foster genuine unity; a deeper understanding between Christians with their common beliefs; and a closer and living relationship with God through His Spirit. Keswick's motto has always been: "All One in Christ Jesus."
FAITH MISSION's DOCTRINE: The Faith Mission began in 1886. Irvine was teaching Faith Mission doctrine and following their practices. The Faith Mission was not a church, and did not set up churches and did not practice Baptism or the Lord’s Supper.
“The Faith Mission teaching for Christians, consisted in the necessity of a surrendered life to God, a clean heart, the indwelling of Christ; also they encouraged all believers both men and women to pray, praise and witness for Jesus in the meetings and in their own homes. Their teaching on these essential truths were given the same as the original Methodists, Friends and Salvations. Besides the salvation of sinners, the organization was much used in the Sanctification of Christians; also in giving presence to home and foreign mission work. They did not teach the Ordinances of Believer’s Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper; the cause of this was they maintained their mission to be unsectarian; nevertheless, teaching young converts obedience to the commands of the Lord Jesus does not necessarily mean a new sect; or a bigoted attitude to others…The Faith Mission, like all other Divinely appointed missions, in its original days, suffered much opposition from the clergy, and professing Christian churches, and it was only the Evangelical ones that countenanced them.” (John Long's Journal September 1898)
IRVINE'S DOCTRINE as detailed by John Long:
"Concerning the principals of the Doctrine of Christ, he [Wm Irvine] was sound. He believed in the fall of man, in the Atonement, in the Trinity, in the Divinity of our Lord, in the immortality of the soul, in the resurrection of the body, the inspiration of the Bible, in Heaven for the saved, and in Hell for the lost. He believed in a personal Devil, the enemy of God and man. He believed and taught Repentance and that every person can be saved and know it, and that the conditions of Salvation were "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." Romans 10:9. He taught that every saved soul is indwelt by the Spirit of Christ; and that the life of Jesus, is the pattern for everyone to imitate and follow; and that the life of forsaking all for Christ's sake was the best to live. The fruits of that teaching resulted in farmers, shop keepers, domestic servants, school teachers, police, soldiers, and persons of every occupation forsaking all that they had to follow Jesus; and to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of God." (John Long's Journal, March, 1898)
WHAT WAS THE SAME? Webster's New World Dictionary defines the word "nomenclature" as: "the system or set of names used in a specific branch of learning or activity, as in biology for plants and animals, or for parts of a particular mechanism." People who subscribe to a special way of thinking usually develop a special language or jargon. Most people who become a part of a group or movement soon begin to talk differently, using new words, or using old words in new ways.
In their formative period, groups frequently adopt and use the doctrines, traditions and organization of the current nomenclature, or that used by the group they came or splintered from. The Quakers use the words: "thee," "thou" and "woulds't," which were commonly used around 1600 when the Quakers were founded. Catholic, Orthodox, Reformation, Mormon and other religions have retained and use distinctive nomenclature representative of the time period in which they were founded. A religious group claiming to have directly descended from the Apostles and to be a direct continuation of the New Testament church would most likely have continued to use FIRST century terminology and language.
Therefore, it is not surprising to find that books and publications of The Faith Mission contain typical nomenclature for religious history prevailing in the 19th century, such as the terms: "profess, some who decided, took their stand, testimony, take part, friends, outsiders, converts, conventions, fields, saints and servants, elder, laborers, workers, companions, two by two, the work, go out in the work, offered for the work, great harvest field, missions, spend and be spent, yield themselves as a living sacrifice, gave their testimony, speakers on the platform, right/wrong spirit, meetings, lead the meeting, testing the meeting, open the meeting, special meetings, gospel meeting, testimony meeting" etc.
When a group has distinctive practices and language that can be traced to that commonly used in a particular time period, it is highly probable that was the time period when the group commenced. Likewise, when a group's practices and language are similar to that used by another group, it is highly probably that the more recently formed group came out of or splintered off from the older group.
The religious terms used by Wm. Irvine's workers were not unique--they were the same religious nomenclature commonly used by The Faith Mission, as well as other churches that also commenced in the 19th century. This may be verified by reviewing the religious publications of that time.
Faith Mission held their annual conventions Saturday through Tuesday; Irvine's conventions were held on those same days.
WHAT WAS DIFFERENT? What was so unusual about Wm Irvine's preaching that it generated such large turnouts? Here are some quotes that provide insight into this phenomena:
"Anyhow he [William Irvine] came along to Nenagh and had meetings in the Methodist Chapel and inside about a fortnight (I think) he had succeeded in causing such a stir in religious, and for that matter irreligious, circles as had been entirely unknown there. Reports reached us at Cloughjordan about this strange man and his strange methods, etc. Nearly everything was highly unconventional--forms, rules and usages were either discarded or flung ruthlessly aside; instead of the 'beaten path' of: (1) Sing, (2) Prayer, (3) Singing, (4) Scripture reading, (5) Sermon, taken from a well chosen text, with its well-studied 1stly, 2ndly, 3rdly, 4thly; and application, etc., then Hymn and Doxology.""One never knew from first to last what was going to come next with him [William Irvine], sometimes hardly any sermon, at other times nearly all sermons; sometime give out a hymn, and from some thought therein start talking to end of meeting and never sing a hymn at all; sometimes sing half a hymn standing, remainder sitting; sometimes nearly all racy anecdotes with plenty smiles and laughter; at other times soul-stirring exhortation, backed by sad and tragic experiences, etc. All this added freshness and life to the words of one whose intense earnestness and wholehearted zeal and devotion none of us had seen before..."
"...In addition to his bold and unusual methods already referred to, there were other outstanding features in William Irvine's preaching as compared with missions I had often attended before; particularly noticeable were his constant and oft repeated references to his own experiences, or as we might call it, 'the work of his testimony'...Preaching had developed into a 'fine art' in Methodism, but lacked the living touch of real personal experience, and he would persistently keep telling the people in every address that so many years ago (naming the number very definitely) he attended meetings and while doing so made up his mind to serve the Lord, that Christ came into his life, and was now living in his body, in a minor measure, as he had lived in the body of Jesus, and so realistic did he make this truth of 'Christ in You' and 'Christ in Me' that it seemed like a New Revelation, although we had been familiar enough with the words 'Christ in you the hope of glory' and also 'For me to live is Christ' and others like them. (G. Pattison in Account of the Early Days)
"Another expression he was fond of using in the first days was: "Jesus was a common man." And although at first to our Pharisaic ears, it sounded very irreverent and repulsive (so much so that some...took great offense and...walked no more with us), yet none of us could contradict or deny the simple fact; and admitting and thinking it over, and making it real had a very healthy and corrective effect on me...changing completely my conception of who and what Jesus was and is, from the fictitious 'Gentleman Jesus' to the Jesus of the New Testament, whom the 'common people' 'heard gladly' and who had always been, both at home and abroad, from cradle to grave, the poorest and lowliest. " (Impartial Reporter, January 15, 1903)
“At Ballymena…Irvine had a meeting so powerful that the people refused to go home, and it lasted all night.” (John Long's Journal August, 1900)
"...the sacred name is bandied about in the public street as if it were Jack or Tom, and while without intentional irreverence, yet with hurtful familiarity...In the same manner the Almighty God, who is generally spoken of as a God of Terror, not as a Heavenly FATHER, full of goodness and love—is made a personality. They speak of Him as being with them, revealing Himself unto them, showing what to do, filling their hearts, &c., all of which shows a remarkable power of imagination, or credulity;" (Impartial Reporter, January 22, 1903)
"One feature in connection with these people is one of the saddest. Their idea is that a ‘saint’ cannot remain in the ‘wor-ruld’ but must go out to preach the—(i.e., their)—Gospel, and hunt for ‘saints.’ To this end they give up their situations. Mr. Irwin, himself, gave up a comfortable business. He had £300 a year when 20 years of age." (Impartial Reporter, January 22, 1903)
"The Pilgrims imagine that each of them has the gifts of preaching and teaching. They do not concede that you serve God where you are placed; you must leave your place and family and go out with them...They think God will give them the power to speak and teach, but for so far the Almighty has not done much in this direction." (Impartial Reporter, January 29, 1903)
"...if we may introduce the Saviour’s sacred name in this connection without being suspected of irreverence, for the sacred name is bandied about in the public street as if it were Jack or Tom, and while without intentional irreverence, yet with hurtful familiarity." (Impartial Reporter, January 15, 1903)
The Tramps' practice of baptism by immersion was an uncommon ceremony, and resulted in many curious spectators.
"Ballinamallard has become the Jerusalem of Pilgrim Tramps, and the Ballycassidy River their Jordan. Last Sunday witnessed the baptism of about 27 Tramps, male and female, and the unusual scene was witnessed by a crowd of interested spectators." (Impartial Reporte, September 29, 1904)
"The tone of the addresses was largely that of the old revival times in which neither the love nor the mercy, the goodness or the beneficence of Almighty God was pointed out, but Heaven was made a sort of insurance office against the terrors of Hell." (Impartial Reporter, Sept. 29, 1904)
SPEAKING AGAINST THE CLERGY: At this time, Irvine was a Revivalist or Evangelist with the Faith Mission and he was not taking anyone away from the denominational congregations. The Faith Mission was not a church or sect and they did NOT set up churches, baptize or serve communion. However, some clergy favoured the FM Evangelists and others opposed them.
Irvine was absorbed with exposing the unscriptural aspects of clericalism. His unkind words and accusations caused people to refuse to make available their churches, halls, buildings, facilities, etc. where he could hold missions. Irvine solved this dilemma by building movable wooden halls.
Taking his call to service seriously, to be the Thresher, Irvine railed against the clergy, causing many of his hearers to react with anger and revenge. Wm Irvine was very direct about who would inhabit hell, so it's not surprising that there was a great deal of resentment and opposition against the Go-Preachers. The Enniskillen, N. Ireland newspaper wrote:
"Indeed they profess little respect for clergy. Although most of these people have come from the Methodist ranks, they are severe in private conversation and public statement upon ministers and preachers. Hell is a word in frequent use with them. Everyone--almost everyone--is going to hell, according to their ideas...Enniskillen is going to hell headlong...Various speakers at the meetings say the townspeople are going to hell. They are all very cock-sure about it No pope ever claimed the power of loosing and binding in hell and heaven stronger than these Pilgrims or Tramps claim to know those who will go to the hot place...Every other sentence almost of Mr. Irwin's oration one night had hell mentioned in it." (Impartial Reporter, January 15, 1903)
"William Irvine visited Scotland; and finding many persons of note, and influences at work against the Go Preacher mission. He launched out into extraordinary language similar to Matt. 23 Chapter; yet, afterwards was very humble and tender. Edward Cooney got afraid of him going too far and losing his head." (John Long's Journal, December, 1904)
"(Rev) J.O. Park and Bros. Irvine and Cooney were dining together with a mutual friend. They were discussing the subject of 'Clergy' probably from both stand-points, when the mutual friend, their hostess asked, 'If a good clergyman did so and so' - I think 'sprinkling a baby' was part of it - 'would it not make a difference'? Mr. I. replied almost instantly, 'There are no good clergymen. It is a contradiction in terms.' Bro. Cooney who had never before heard him come out so plainly felt a bit surprised and frightened, and Mr. Park rose from the table and retired feeling deeply insulted. So far as I ever heard, this was really the first time Mr. I. had gone so far; but as you know, later on he proclaimed 'from the house-tops', that all and sundry of the cloth, including Mr. Wesley, are in Hell, all 'harlot hearted hirelings, etc.' " (G. Pattison in Account of the Early Days)
"A good deal of opposition arose at that time because William Irvine spoke with great authority against the unfaithfulness of the clergy; many threw on the brake, but he refused to be corrected by them believing that God had raised him up to thresh the mountains…he was known to preach for five hours, all the while holding the attention of his audience. Besides trusting in God for healing...I have no doubt but the clergy opposed him when God was mightily using him as an instrument in reaping the harvest, and his first outspokenness was against their opposition to him." (John Long's Journal, June, 1898)
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