Today, in the wake of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements, we have some idea of what to do if the pastor suddenly starts talking about the restoration of the extraordinary gifts of tongues and prophecy. At least we have some categories in which to think about this sort of thing. In 1830 it was completely novel, especially in a respectable London presbyterian congregation associated with the Church of Scotland! But it happened. David Brown was in the pulpit preaching when Mr. Robert Baxter, a London solicitor who was a respected Church member suddenly cried out "The spiritual ministry, the spiritual ministry!" Other such interruptions followed, some in 'unknown tongues'.
David Brown did not at first reject the interruptions, although he might well have, since they were utterly foreign to Scots Presbyterianism. He decided instead that it was right to 'try the spirits', as the Bible exhorts (if a movement discourages such honest trying of the spirits, we ought to be very cautious of it indeed). It soon became clear that was was going on was not of God. Mr. Baxter's 'utterances' went from being simple exhortations founded on the Bible to bizarre predictions and doctrinal statements, predictions that were not fulfilled, and doctrinal statements that contradicted the Scriptures. Most notably, Baxter prophesied that he would go to Westminster Hall, where he would utter a prophecy that would result in him being 'struck off'. He went to Westminster Hall, but no prophecy ever came. David Brown saw that no prophet speaking by the Holy Spirit in the Bible ever made false predictions, and he realised there were only two possibilities. Firstly, they could be dealing with excited human beings who were self-deluded. The so-called prophecies might be nothing more than wishful thinking and excited impressions that came out of human imaginations. Secondly, a satanic agency could be deluding Baxter and others. David Brown knew Satan was real, and it was possible that even genuine Christians might be being misled by him as he tried to discredit the Church.
After much prayer and study, Brown finally concluded the manifestations were from the flesh, and he renounced them completely. The 'unknown tongues', at first supposed to be real languages, were just ecstatic speech, meaningless sounds uttered by overexcited people. The 'prophecies' were the results of overexcited imaginations, and the 'power' felt in the services was just excitement. With a heavy heart, Brown went to Irving and told him of his conclusion.
"Well, Mr. Brown," Irving said after a pause, "You have left us." "Yes, but not, as you know, while there was any shadow of ground to think that this work was divine." Again Irving paused before he spoke in that impressive voice of his. "Your intellect, sir, has destroyed you," he said at last with deep emotion. "Yes, sir, I confess it, my intellect has done the deed, whatever that may mean: I am responsible for the use of my intellect, and I have used it." Thus they parted, with deep emotion on both sides.
We are all, as David Brown, given our intellect by God, and as Christians we are responsible to use it in God's service. We are not to dismiss things out of hand, but we are also not to be carried along by unthinking emotion. Brown found the Regent Square movement wanting, so he had to reject it. He was driven by the unbiblical extravagances of the movement to a deeper study of the Scriptures for which generations of pastors are thankful.
Anyone wishing to learn more about Irving's tragic life should read Arnold Dallimore's biography
of Irving published by the Banner of Truth Trust. God willing, next time we shall deal with David Brown's return to Scotland.
Labels: David Brown