Revised April 15, 2017
What did William Irvine Believe and Teach?
Irvine was a strong leader and a sensitive teacher. He used various methods in his ministry that were far from conventional. He was filled with energy and zeal and was not influenced by traditions or opinions. While he could be rather severe on traditionally accepted Christianity, he was also very compassionate to sinners and quite successful in leading new converts to salvation through Christ. He was known to preach for five hours at a time while keeping the rapt attention of his audience.
John Long's description of meetings: "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... 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' " (Journal, April 1898).
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" (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...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...admit[ted] 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. P. Account of the Early Days).
Alfred Magowan's description of Irvine: “…the Victorian of my last and greatest admiration was a preacher of the Gospel; and I think I might say with full authority of the truth of it that I owe more to his words and his spiritual influence than to anything that proceeded from any other person. He is dead now; but while the good and mysterious gift of memory remains with me unimpaired, I will cherish grateful recollections of his striking lightning, his crashing thunder, and the gentle winds and refreshing showers which followed.
"His storms of wrath against humbug and hypocrisy were dreadful to see and to hear; and his sympathetic understanding of weak and troubled souls made him the most loved man I have ever met. He was the only preacher I ever heard who made clear distinctions between weakness and wickedness: weakness was of the flesh and the will; wickedness was of the heart, and showed itself mainly in religious and respectable iniquity–in the ordinary ways of strong men taking advantage of the weak; rich men exploiting the poor; religious rulers tyrannizing over the fearful and the credulous–in the name of Christ and His Church…
"And where the common run of preachers murdered the Scriptures by elocutionary reading of them, or by dull and flat interpretations and applications of them, he brought them to life by the abundance of his own life from his childhood among hard working people. And he was well acquainted with hard work himself–in the 'bowels of the earth.' He had also a grand sense of humour and of the fitness of things…
"He was the most sensitive-spirited preacher I ever met, and suffered keenly in himself when he spoke without inspiration. And of course he never used notes: that would have been like going to a dinner and taking his own food with him.…He could not endure religious ostentation of any kind; and the palaver of the pulpit or the platform such as ‘We have with us tonight a man who needs no introduction to this assembly' provoked him to irreligious mirth–or anger as the case might be. Honours and titles in the name of a Person who had none–nor desired any, he looked upon as the evidence of empty heads and undelivered hearts.
" ‘Pass in the crowd for a working man’ was his advice to preachers who were in doubt about how they should dress. And distinctive religious garb filled him with a deep disgust....And his deliverance from the power of money, one of the chief evidences of his salvation: for he could have coined both his natural abilities and his spiritual endowments…if any man knew the damning quality of ambition in the heart of a man when it took that turn–he was that man most pre-eminently in our time" (Alfred Magowan’s Essay: Ideas and Beliefs of the Victorians (Some Victorians I have known), Feb. 23, 1948, pp. 4–5*).
"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" (Journal, March 1898).
SPEAKING AGAINST THE CLERGY: Irvine took Isaiah 41:15 for his "Call to Service": "Behold I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth, thou shalt thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and shall make the hills as dust" (Journal, March 1897), Irvine's goal, as the thresher, was to expose the unscriptural aspects of clericalism. He often railed against the clergy, which caused many of his audience to react with anger and some with revenge and even riots. He insulted and mocked various preachers and claimed they would be or were in hell, including revered men such as John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, etc.
Of course, the result was a great deal of resentment against the Go-Preachers, and they suffered a good deal of opposition from the clergy and churches. His unkind words and accusations reported in the newspapers caused many to deny him permission to use their churches, halls, buildings, facilities, etc. Irvine solved this dilemma by building wooden halls that could be moved from place to place for missions and baches. A newspaper description:
"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 [Irvine's]oration one night had hell mentioned in it" (IR, Jan. 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" (Journal, Dec. 1904).
"Rev. J.O. Park and brothers 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. Irvine 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. Irvine 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. P., Account of the Early Days).
"A good deal of opposition arose at that time because Wm 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…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" (Journal, June 1898).
SIMILARITIES TO OTHER CHRISTIAN CHURCHES: The Faith Mission books and publications contain typical language and nomenclature prevailing in the 19th century, such as the terms: "profess, some who decided, took their stand, testimony, take part, friends, outsiders, converts, 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, a living sacrifice, speakers on the platform, right/wrong spirit, meetings, lead the meeting, testing the meeting, open the meeting, conventions, special meetings, gospel meetings, testimony meetings," etc.
The religious terms or jargon used by Wm. Irvine's workers were not unique--they were much the same as the Christian nomenclature commonly used by the Faith Mission, as well as other churches that also commenced in the 19th and 20th centuries. This may be verified by reviewing the religious publications of that time.
Webster's definition of the word "nomenclature" is: "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 use the group jargon, which may use common words in new ways.
In their formative period, groups frequently adopt and use the doctrines, traditions and organization used by Christian churches of that period or the group they came out of. For example, the Quakers use the words: "thee," "thou" and "wouldst," which were commonly used around 1600 when the Quakers were founded. Catholic, Orthodox, Reformation, Mormon and other religions have retained and continue to use distinctive nomenclature representative of the time period in which they were founded.
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 time period was when the group commenced. Likewise, when a group's practices and language are the same or similar to that used by another group, it is highly probable that the more recently formed group came out of or splintered off from the older group.
A religious ministry claiming to have directly descended from the Apostles and claiming to be a direct continuation of the New Testament church should contain much of the FIRST century terminology and language. But that is not the case with the 2x2 movement.
WORKERS LISTS: The Faith Mission printed an ANNUAL list titled “Staff of Workers,” showing the name of each Pilgrim in order by the date they entered the Faith Mission, with the earliest first. The FM founder was always listed first (J. G. Govan - 1886). Under Govan's name, the Pilgrim workers were listed in order by seniority. Likewise, this same format was used for the oldest 2x2 Workers List found to date. On the 1905 Workers List, the name of the founder, William Irvine, is listed first, with John Kelly under him; then the workers who entered the work in 1899, 1900, etc.
CONVENTIONS: Both Faith Mission and Keswick Conventions held their annual conventions on Saturday through Tuesday. Irvine held his large scale conventions on those same days also.
"Anyhow he [William Irvine] came along to Nenagh and had meetings in the Methodist Chapel and inside about a fortnight...he had succeeded in causing such a stir...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...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. P., 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, Jan. 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 Aug. 1900).
"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).
"...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, Jan. 15, 1903).
BAPTISM BY IMMERSION: Although they did not start baptizing converts until 1902, the Workers' baptism by immersion was an uncommon ceremony and drew 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 Reporter, Sept. 29, 1904).
NOT TAKING A NAME: They were different in that from their beginning, they took no official name for their movement. No documents have surfaced as to when it was made, on what basis or who made this decision.
Early on they used the name "Go-Preacher," for and among themselves, taken from Matthew 10:7, "As ye go, preach." In fact, the title of their first hymnbook was the "Go-Preacher Hymn Book." They also referred to themselves as the "Testimony of Jesus," shortened to "Testimony." There are documents showing this name was being used early in the movement's history. Irvine used this name to refer to the 2x2 Sect in numerous letters. They also frequently referred to their movement as "The Jesus Way." By 1904, three years after Cooney joined them, they were already being nicknamed "Cooneyites," "Dippers" and "Tramp Preachers."
ITINERANT PREACHERS in SAME SEX PAIRS (Two by Two): In the early days, the majority of converts went out to preach shortly thereafter. There were far more preachers than laity.
"One feature in connection with these people is one of the saddest. Their idea is that a ‘saint’ cannot remain in the world 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, [Irvine] himself, gave up a comfortable business. He had £300 a year when 20 years of age" (Impartial Reporter, Jan. 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, Jan. 29, 1903).
DISTRIBUTION OF POSSESSIONS: Someone who wanted to become a Worker and had money or property disposed of it and "lay it at the apostles' feet" to be used for propagating the 2x2 method, following Acts 4:34-35 "for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles' feet."
WOMEN PREACHERS: At the turn of the 20th century, clergywomen, women preachers and female missionaries were rare. However, the 2x2 women preachers were not the only women preaching. It was considered a scriptural mandate up until the late 1800s for women to "keep silence in the churches" (1 Cor 14:34). Phoebe Palmer played a major role in changing this. In 1859, she published a 421 page book titled The Promise of the Father, in which she defended women's right to preach. She based her argument primarily upon the prophecy of Joel (2:28-29), quoted by Peter (Acts 2:18) in his Pentecost sermon, which declared that in the New Covenant both men AND women would prophesy/preach. This became the principle scriptural justification for women preachers throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century.
The Society of Friends (Quakers) have allowed women to serve as ministers since the early 1800s. John Wesley, founder of Methodism was the first to break convention and give his official approval to women preachers when he licensed Sarah Crosby to preach in 1761. Wesleyan Methodists began to ordain women in the 1860s, nearly a century in advance of the mainline Methodist Church, which is today the denominational leader in ordaining women.
It was the Salvation Army, founded in 1854, that made the most progress in giving women full rights of ministry. Catherine Mumford Booth, co-founder of the Salvation Army with her husband, was a powerful and popular preacher. From their beginning around 1840, the Holiness movement allowed women the right to preach.
The Faith Mission, a holiness ministry founded in 1886, believed that "your sons AND daughters shall prophesy" (preach). They accepted two sister workers as Pilgrims in 1887 and became well known for their bonneted sisters who wore navy-blue bonnets and dresses. Irvine worked with women preachers in the Faith Mission, and almost from its beginning, he allowed them to preach in his movement.
NO COLLECTIONS: This was very different from other churches, except for the Plymouth Brethren. The Impartial Reporter stated: "The tramps say they have no collections. In strict parlance this may be correct, but is it not the whole truth. They may not 'collect', but they receive donations. At the houses in which they hold meetings, a bag is placed for the receipt of the gifts..." (IR, Aug., 27, 1908).
DO NOT PUBLISH LITERATURE: From their beginning, the 2x2 Sect published no literature for or about their group, except for a hymnal. The "Go-Preacher Hymn Book," was the first hymnal they published and was used until 1913 when "Hymns Old & New" was first published. On the other hand, the FM had a printing department at headquarters and printed a number of publications, including their monthly publication, "Bright Words."
NO TRAINING FOR WORKERS: Unlike the Faith Mission, the 2x2s had no training program or school. FM printed a 30-page rule or guide booklet for their Pilgrim Workers titled: "Pilgrim Life." Note on cover: "Issued privately for the use of Faith Mission Candidates and Pilgrims. To be read by the latter before each mission or at least once a quarter." Another difference from FM mentioned in this booklet: "We would emphasize the general rule that the annual rest is of one month's duration." In many areas, the 2x2 Workers to this day get no time off except for convention tours, which can be stressful, rather than restful.
HOME CHURCH MEETINGS, BAPTISM AND COMMUNION were not a part of the movement at the first. Until around 1902, new converts continued to attend the churches of their choice. After Sunday meetings, communion and baptism were established, the people separated themselves from the denominational churches they had been attending.
Telling the Truth has a hard copy of the documents, books, newspaper articles, references, etc. used in this book. Any exceptions are noted.
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