Alleged Irvingite Influence on Darby and the Rapture

Dr. Thomas Ice

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Since the 1970sin America, it has become commonplace for writers of articles and books againstpretribulationism to bring up some form of the argument that Darby got keyelements of his view from an Irvingite source. More recently a scholarly attempt is made by American MarkPatterson[1]to see Irvingite eschatology as an antecedent source to Darby andpretribulationism. "Irving'swriting in The Morning Watch reveal thathe was, above and before anything else, a pretribulational-premillennialtheologian," declares Patterson. "This cannot be overstated. From his meeting with Hately Frere in 1825 until his death in December1834, Irving's every thought and writing was shaped under the aegis of hisimminent Adventism and premillennial convictions."[2] Even though Patterson says:

It is not my purpose here tocorrelate or equate Albury's premillennialism with contemporarydispensationalism or to prove the source of the latter is to be found in theformer. My intention is simply todemonstrate that Albury's hermeneutic led to a specific systematic theologythat I believe is best described as "nascent dispensationalism." The precise relationship betweenAlbury's theology and that which will follow in John Nelson Darby, the PlymouthBrethren, and especially 20th century dispensationalism, whileremarkable, lie beyond the purview of this thesis.[3]

Patterson says in a co-authoredarticle, "In the end, and at the very least, Irving must be considered thepaladin of pre-tribulational pre-millennialism and the chief architect of itscardinal formulas."[4]


Asnoted above, Patterson claims that Edward Irving is the true father ofpretribulationism.

Inaddition to the a priori dismissal ofIrving, there exist two fundamental errors common among those who uncriticallyassume Darby to be the source of the pre-tribulation Rapture. First, few acknowledge the degree towhich Darby's theology reflects the very millenarian tradition in which he wasimmersed. The core principles ofhis theology—literalistic hermeneutic, apostasy in the Church, therestoration of the Jews to their homeland, details of Christ's coming, and hisbelief that biblical prophecy spoke uniquely to his day—were conceptsheld, discussed and propagated by a large body of prophecy students. Second, the development of Darby's owntheology, in spite of how he remembers it, was from 1827 to even as late as1843 in a largely formative stage.[5]

There are a number of problemscreated when one sees too great of a similarity between Irvingite historicismand Brethren futurism. Pattersonmakes such errors.

The"core principles" of Darby's theology, as expressed by Patterson are too broadand general. Look at this listcompared to Irving and his followers: First, "literalistic hermeneutic." Patterson himself describes Irving andthe Albury hermeneutics as not just literal since that "tells only half thestory," but ones who follow the "literal-typological methodology."[6] This is typical of the quasi-literalismof historicism. While Darby issaid to be a consistent literalist, who did not attempt to make days into yearsor find historical fulfillment of seal, trumpet or bowl judgments in thechurch's past history. Theseevents were all literal and future events. Also, Irving believed that many of the passages that spokeof events in a Jewish tribulation were unfolding before their eyes. For example, Babylon refers to theapostate Church of their own day. David Bebbington distinguishes between historicist hermeneutic and afuturist form of literalism:

Historicists found it hard to be thoroughgoing advocates ofliteral interpretation. There wastoo great a gulf between the detail of biblical images and their allegedhistorical fulfillment to make any such claim possible. Futurists did not suffer from thishandicap. Consequently, theyshouted louder for literalism—and, among the futurists, thedispensationalists shouted loudest of all. J. N. Darby was contending as early as 1829 that prophecyrelating to the Jews would be fulfilled literally. As his thought developed during the 1830s, this principle ofinterpretation became the lynchpin of his system. Because Darby's opinions were most wedded to literalism, hisdistinctive scheme enjoyed the advantage of taking what seemed the mostrigorist view of scripture.[7]

Thus, Irving and Albury do not havea common hermeneutic with Darby as Patterson contends.

Bothgroups held to the apostasy of the church, but even this similarity reflects agreat chasm of differences between the historicist and futurist views. The Albury view held that the churchhad just finished the 1260 days, which are really 1260 years that ended withthe defeat of Antichrist (Roman Catholicism) in 1789 via the FrenchRevolution. These eventsforewarned the soon rise of the whore of Babylon (Rev. 17—18), which isthe apostate church.[8] On the other hand, Darby's futurismheld that apostasy was predicted primarily in the New Testament Epistles andwould increasingly characterize the end of the current church age. Albury historicism saw apostasy as aharbinger of the second coming of Christ to the earth. Darby saw the ruin of the church as acharacteristic that precedes an imminent rapture of the church followed by theevents of the seven-year tribulation.

Bothapproaches do see a restoration of the Jews to their homeland, but as with theprevious two issues, there are significant differences. Darby believed that the Jews wouldreturn to their land in unbelief and then converted during the seven-yeartribulation, yet future to the church age. He says, "At the end of the age the same fact will bereproduced: the Jews—returned to their own land, though without beingconverted—will find themselves in connection with the fourth beast."[9]However, Irving believed that current with this present age, "when the Lordshall have finished the taking of witness against the Gentiles, . . . will turnhis Holy Spirit unto his ancient people the Jews."[10] Shortly after that time, Christ willreturn.[11]

Thelast two items mentioned by Patterson are "details of Christ's coming, and hisbelief that biblical prophecy spoke uniquely to his day." These are so broad that they could besaid to characterize just about any Evangelical view of eschatology, whetheramillennial, premillennial or postmillennial; whether preterist, historicist,futurist or idealist. Everyapproach has details of Christ's coming and certainly every system believesthat their view speaks uniquely to his day. More importantly are the differences concerning the detailsof Christ coming as seen by the different systems and also many differencewould arise in relation to how each prophetic view spoke uniquely to hisday. Thus, it is less than compellingto see how Irving and Albury's eschatology is the forerunner to Darby,pretribulationism and dispensationalism. Instead, it is Irving and Albury that Darby was reacting against.


Anextensive critical analysis of Irvingite doctrine declared that they were stilloverwhelmingly historicist, while Darby and the Brethren had becomefuturist. Flegg, an Irvingitescholar who grew up within the church, notes that the differences between thetwo movements are far-reaching:

The Brethren took a futurist view of theApocalypse, attacking particularly the interpretation of prophetic 'days' as'years', so important for all historicists, including the Catholic Apostolics.. . . It was the adoption of thisfuturist eschatology by a bodyof Christians which gave it the strength to become a serious rival to thealternative historicist eschatology of the Catholic Apostolics and others. Darby introduced the concept of a secret rapture to take place 'at any moment', a beliefwhich subsequently became one of the chief hallmarks of Brethreneschatology. He also taught thatthe 'true' Church was invisible and spiritual. Both these ideas were in sharp contrast to CatholicApostolic teaching, . . . Therewere thus very significant differences between the two eschatologies, andattempts to see any direct influence of one upon the other seem unlikely tosucceed—they had a number of common roots, but are much more notable for their points ofdisagreement.[12]

Irving taughtthat the second coming was synonymous with the rapture.[13] He believed that it was the singlereturn of the Lord that was getting near.


WhileIrving and the Albury group had a few eschatological ideas that were unique, abelief in the pretrib rapture was not one of those aspects. It is impossible for one to follow thehistoricist approach and also believe that the rapture will occur before thetribulation, since historicists believe that the tribulation began hundreds ofyears ago. It is also true thatIrvingites spoke of a soon coming of Christ to translate believers to heaven,but this view was part of their second coming belief that they apparentlyderived from Manuel Lacunza's writings,[1]which were not the product of futurism at that point. On the other hand, Darby most likely thought of and thendeveloped the idea of pretribulationism in the process of shifting tofuturism. Maranatha!


[1]Manuel Lacunza, also known as Juan Josafat Ben-Ezra, The Coming of Messiah, pp. 99–101; 214–17; 248–51;266–67.

[1] Mark RayburnPatterson, "Designing the Last Days: Edward Irving, The Albury Circle, and theTheology of The Morning Watch," Ph. D. Thesis, King's College, London, January2001.

[2] Patterson,"Designing," pp. 228–29.

[3] Patterson,"Designing," p. 136.

[4] Mark A.Patterson and Andrew Walker, "'Our Unspeakable Comfort:' Irving, Albury, andthe Origins of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture, in Stephen Hunt, editor, ChristianMillenarianism: From the Early Church to Waco,(Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2001), p. 115.

[5] Pattersonand Walker, "'Our Unspeakable Comfort,'" pp. 114–15.

[6] Patterson,"Designing," p. 76. See also, p.62.

[7] DavidBebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s tothe 1980s (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House,1989), p. 89.

[8] See EdwardIrving, "Preliminary Discourse by the Translator" in Juan Josafat Ben-Ezra, TheComing of Messiah in Glory and Majesty(London: L. B. Seeley and son, 1827), p. xxxiii.

[9] John NelsonDarby, The Hopes of the Church of God, in Connection with the Destiny of theJews and the Nations as Revealed in Prophecy(1840), Collected Writings, vol. 2 (Winschoten, Netherlands: H. L. Heijkoop,reprint 1971), 324.

[10] Irving,"Preliminary Discourse," p. v.

[11] Irving,"Preliminary Discourse," p. vi.

[12] (emphasisoriginal) Columba Graham Flegg, 'Gathered Under Apostles' A Study of theCatholic Apostolic Church (Oxford:Clarendon Press, 1992), p. 436. Flegg's chapter on Catholic Apostolic eschatology is extensive, (249pages), more than half the volume of the book.

[13] EdwardIrving, "Signs of the Times in the Church," The Morning Watch, Vol. 2 (1830), p. 156.