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The following year opened with unabated activity. The courage and hopefulness, equally unabated, with which Irving entered upon it, will be seen from a letter addressed to Dr. Chalmers, and apparently written in the very conclusion of December, 1828 (the date being torn off), in which it will be seen that the laborious man, not weaned, among all his other triumphs, from academical ambition, proposed, and was ready to prepare for an academical examination, in order to obtain the highest title in theology. This letter was written immediately after Dr. Chalmers's entrance upon the duties of the Divinity Chair in Edinburgh.
“MY DEAR AND HONOURED FRIEND, -I desire to congratulate you upon the welcome which you have received in the University of Edinburgh, in which I pray that you may have much wisdom and long life to labour. I agree with that which I have gathered of your sentiments with respect to the excessive duties of the chair, beyond the reach of any single man to discharge them aright. Biblical criticism should be the chief object of the Hebrew chair, not the teaching of the letters and the grammar; and, certainly, of the three years spent in the Greek class, at least one should be occupied in the critical study of the New Testament. There is no university in Europe (always excepting the thing called the London University) which would be so ashamed of God and theology as yours, against which I ought not to speak, for she
is my Alma Mater. Then the Church History, instead of dawdling over the first four centuries, should especially be conversant with the history of the Church of Scotland, and the duties incumbent upon a parish priest; in short, what belongs to the Churchman rather than the theologian, and the Hebrew what belongs to the scholar. Then it would be a Theological Faculty indeed. But what pretensions these two classes have at present to that title I am at a great loss to discover. This is spoken in your own ear, for it but ill graces what I am now to turn to.
“I have, you know, a great reverence for antiquity, and especially the antiquity of learning and knowledge: the venerable honours of the academy have ever been very dear to
At the same time I love the discipline of a university, and set a great value upon a strict examination before any degree is conferred. On this account, when Sir John Sinclair volunteered more than five years ago to obtain for me the degree of Doctor in Divinity, I rejected his offer, because I held it against all academical discipline. While I would not have the thing thus attained, or thus conferred, there is no honour upon earth which I more desire, if the ancient discipline of sitting for it with my theses and defending them in the Latin tongue, submitting to examinations of the learned professors, were restored. Now, I wish you to inquire for me what is the ancient discipline of the university in respect to this degree; and whether it be the privilege of a Master of Arts to ask and demand examination for his degree; and how long he must have been an M.A. to entitle him to do so. I took my degree of A.M. in the year 1809, that is nineteen years ago. If the privilege were granted me of appearing in my place, and submitting myself to trial, I should immediately set about diligent preparations, and might be ready before the next winter, or about that time. I leave this in your hands, and shall wait your answer at your convenience.
“We have had another Albury meeting, and are more convinced than ever of the judgments which are about to be brought upon Christendom, and upon us most especially, if we should go into any league or confederacy with, or toleration of, the papal abomination. I intend, in a few days, to begin a letter to the Church of Scotland on the subject.
THE GREAT HOPE OF THE CHURCH.
They intend setting forth quarterly a Journal of Prophecy, which may stir up the Church to a consideration of her hopes. I think there is some possibility of my being in Edinburgh next May. Will any of the brethren permit me the use of their Church to preach a series of sermons upon the Kingdom, founded upon passages in the New Testament? Sandy Scott is a most precious youth, the finest and the strongest faculty for pure theology I have yet met with. Yet a rough sea is before him, and, perhaps, before more than him. I trust the Lord will give you time and leisure to consider the great hope of the Church first given to Abraham: “That she shall be heir of the world.' Certainly it is the very substance of theology. The second coming of the Lord is the point de vue,' the vantage ground, as one of my friends is wont to word it, from which, and from which alone, the whole purpose of God can be contemplated and understood. You will sometimes see my old friend and early patron, Professor Leslie: please assure him of my grateful remembrances. I desire my cordial affection to Mrs. Chalmers and the sisterhood. Farewell. The Lord prosper your labours abundantly, and thereto may your own soul be prospered. “Your faithful and affectionate friend and brother,
“ EDWARD IRVING."
This letter, sent by the hand of a relative, Dr. Macaulay, who was "desirous of paying his respects to one whom he admires and loves very much,” was followed, at a very short interval, by another, asking advice on a very delicate point of ecclesiastical order, which Irving states as follows:
"London, 5th January, 1829,
“13 Judd Place, East. “MY DEAR SIR,— This case has occurred to us as a Session on which it has been resolved to consult you, our ancient friend, and any other doctors or jurists of the Church with whom you may please, for the better and fuller knowledge of the matter, to consult. It is, whether the Church permit baptism by immersion or not. The standards seem not to
declare a negative, but only to affirm that baptism by sprinkling is sufficient. In the Church of England, the rule of baptizing infants is by immersion, and the exception is by sprinkling. I sought counsel of our Presbytery in this matter, which once occurred in an adult, as it has now occurred in an infant. They seemed to be of the mind that there was no rule, but only practice, against it, and advised, upon the ground of expediency, to refrain. .... The father, who is a member of the Church, is a most pious and worthy man, full of forbearance to others, but very firmly, and from much reading, convinced of the duty of baptizing by immersion only. He has waited some time, and the sooner we could ascertain the judgment of the Church the better. . My own opinion is, that our standards leave it as a matter of forbearance, preserving the sprinkling, — the Church of England the same, preserving immersion. I am sorry to trouble you who have so much to do, but the mere writing of the judgment would satisfy us. And as you are now the head of the theological faculty, as well as our ancient friend, the Session thought of no other, at whose request I write.
“ Your affectionate friend,
“ EDWARD IRVING.”
So dutiful and eager to know the mind of the Church was the man whose long conflict against her authorities was now just commencing. If Dr. Chalmers answered these letters, the answers have not been preserved; nor have I the least information what the head of the theological faculty said to that old-world application for an examination and trial by which the candidate for theological honours might win his degree. Irving was never to get within sight of that testimony of the Church's approval — far from that, was verging, had he but known it, upon her censures and penalties. But though this year upon which he had just entered was one of the most strenuous and incessant defence and
IRVING'S BELIEF IN HIS OWN ORTHODOXY.
assertion of doctrine, though its whole space was occupied with renewed and ever stronger settings forth of the truth, which with growing fervour he held to embody the very secret of the Gospel, his position, to his own apprehension, was in no respect that of a heretic assailed. On the contrary, he conceived himself to stand as the champion of Orthodox truth against a motley crowd of heretics; and with this idea, calmly at first, and with more and more vehemence as he began to discover how great was the array against him, devoted himself to the assertion and proof of a doctrine which, when he stated it, he knew not that any man doubted. Throughout all his contentions he never abandoned this position. First surprised, then alarmed, not for himself but for the Church, afterwards, and not till a long interval had elapsed, indignant, he continued steadily to hold this attitude. Even when the Church uttered her thunders, he stood dauntless, the Church's real champion, the defender of her orthodox belief, the faith once delivered to the saints. Such was his position, to his own thinking, in the struggle which was beginning. He did everything that man could do, privately, calmly, with unparalleled forbearance sometimes, sometimes with vehemence and rashness, to set forth fairly and fully before the world the doctrine he held. He supported it with an array of authorities difficult to get over; with quotations from the fathers and standards of entire Christendom, with arguments and appeals to Seripture, almost always with a noble eloquence which came warm from his heart. In private letters, in sermons, in every method by which he could come into communication with the world, he