The Oberlin Evangelist

June 22, 1859

Dr. Campbell and Pres. Finney.


Not long ago we republished entire an article from the British Standard expressive of the editor Dr. Campbell's confidence in Pres. Finney's orthodoxy, and in his general excellence as a preacher of the gospel. Of late, since Pres. Finney's present visit to England, several of the theologians of Scotland and of England have attacked some of Pres. Finney's views. Dr. Campbell himself has expressed strong disapprobation of certain passages which he quotes from his Systematic Theology, a work which it seems he has never till recently examined, but assumed to be orthodox on the recommendation of Dr. Redford whom he still regards as a very sound theologian.

So far as we have seen the strictures of the British theologians, they amount to little more than strong expressions of disapprobation, and declarations that certain views of Pres. Finney are anti-scriptural and out of harmony with the formulas of orthodox confessions. Little argument is attempted. Dr. Campbell is not an exception; but the one of his strictures is friendly and even affectionate. He speak of Pres. Finney's errors, as he deems them, as like spots on the sun, though he seems to fear that his personal regards may make him to favorable a judge. In justice to the President he give at length Dr. Redford's preface to the English edition of the Systematic Theology. To us, who know the intrepid freedom with which Pres. Finney always preaches his views, it seems incomprehensible how Dr. Campbell could have heard him preach over a hundred sermons without understanding his theological peculiarities. The Doctor says that he has recently re-examined the reports of these sermons, and finds not a sentence to which he can make just objection.

But we cannot doubt that in all points of importance the Theology and the sermons are at one; and that Dr. Campbell, brave man that he is, is frightened by words rather than things; phraseology rather than doctrine. Pres. Finney chooses to say that the work of Christ is a condition of justification; Dr. Campbell and most divines call it the ground. Pres. Finney says the believer's justification has its ground in the love of God; Dr. Campbell says it has it source in that love. In doctrine there is not a particle of difference between them. Both hold the believer's justification to be all of grace, absolutely and completely gratuitous. Pres. Finney maintains that repentance, including renunciation of all sin and consecration to all holiness, is a condition of justification, and that the faith which is not accompanied by such repentance cannot be justifying faith. If Pres. Finney did not preach this in London, he must have preached there as he never did in America. It is impossible that Dr. Campbell should not believe this to be orthodox, and yet he writes as if he thought it a very serious error--and that when the sinner first comes by faith to the Savior, he comes with the pollution of his sins in his heart. Pres. Finney and Dr. Campbell both doubtless unite in believing that when the gospel which presents the Savior to the sinner gains, by the power of the Holy Ghost, the sinner's heart, that heart's bondage to sin is broken, and the love which is the fulfilling of the law takes it place. But this interferes not with the gratuitousness of the believer's justification, nor does it make his acceptance any less a matter of the purest grace. And when finally he attains to the perfection of heaven, he will just as fully as in the first moment of evangelical hope on earth, cry,

"Rock of Ages, cleft for me,

Let me hide myself in thee."

Dr. Campbell appears to sympathize with those who find fault with Pres. Finney's denial that the nature, substance or faculties of the human soul are in themselves, at birth, or at any other time, sinful; and yet Dr. Campbell really after all agrees with the President, and expressly says that he prefers to say depraved rather than sinful. President Finney maintains that man is by the fall of Adam physically, but not morally depraved--that moral depravity, or sin, cannot exist without the consent of the subject--that it consists in the wrong voluntary action or state of man's heart--that this view alone harmonizes with the Bible doctrine that "sin is transgression of the law"--and that this only, represents God as just in condemning the sinner. To this doctrine we do not understand Dr. Campbell to object, though he might not adopt all Pres. Finney's modes of expression.

The President further maintains that the physical depravity which man inherits from Adam is the certain occasion of total moral depravity to all the race, which utter sinfulness continues in every case till the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost transforms the heart. But Pres. Finney denies that the physical depravity in which man is born, is the necessitating cause of sin to any man. He believes that in order to preserve the moral responsibility of man, he must distinguish between necessitating cause and certain occasion. To our astonishment we learn that Dr. Campbell regards these phrases as of synonymous meaning. We think that earnest Christian theologians will, we would hope soon, be led to see that unless they grasp and hold fast this distinction, there will be left to them in their system a moral world called moral by a word exhausted of all distinguishable import. It will mean in theology no more than it means in the Pantheistic Philosophy of Germany.

It is objected to Pres. Finney by some of the British theologians, that he does not hold that Christ suffered for us the penalty of the law. Their notion seems to be that atonement and justification are judicial transactions in the strictest sense of the term. The death of Christ is legally substituted for the death of the sinner, and the righteousness of Christ is legally substituted for the obedience which the sinner owed to the law. The law, they hold, is satisfied in a way literally analogous to that in which satisfaction is made for a pecuniary debt when a friend pays instead of the debtor. This is substantially the same thing with our old-school theology in America; but Dr. Campbell must be aware that a very large section of American theologians do not accept these views, and that these, as a body, are the ministers most active in the promotion of revivals of religion and in all reformatory movements. Pres. Finney has always been a theologian of the new-school. The aim of this school is to "justify the ways of God to man," and therefore to show that the Bible System, correctly taken, perfectly harmonizes with the intuitions and deductions of right reason and sound philosophy. They are not inferior to their brethren of the old-school in their reverence for revelation and its articulate teachings; but like Bishop Butler, one of the most reverent of men, they dare not "vilify reason," which is the only faculty by which we can judge of anything. The dread that some men feel of a thorough intellectual investigation of everything, betrays their half-conscious apprehension that their particular views cannot stand such a test. The careful, intrepid, and yet humble, use of all our mental faculties can never be displeasing to him who created us in the image of his own intelligence, and approves above all things the cherishing of a confiding, childlike spirit.

On the old-school scheme, the law ought to have said, The soul that sinneth shall die, some fit substitute shall die in his stead. In that case Christ's death would have literally satisfied the law; but how is the law literally satisfied by Christ when it simply denounced death upon the transgressors? The law knows nothing of substitution. Substitution is an expedient of the government aside from law, by which the ends of law are attained better than they could be by the execution of the penalty. It is a common idea that somehow on somebody the penalty must be executed or the veracity of the law-giver be dishonored. But the veracity of the law-giver is not preserved by substitution, unless the law itself provided for substitution. The truth is the penalty is not absolutely threatened as the reward of obedience is absolutely promised. Were this the case there could be no vicarious atonement, and every sinner must himself die. The reward of obedience cannot be set aside without injury to him who is entitled to it. But a penalty can be set aside with no injury to any one when a sufficient atonement is made; and when, as in the case of the gospel, the atonement is of transcendent dignity, the substitution does unspeakable good to all, and even the law itself is magnified and made honorable by its glory.

In like manner it appears that legal or judicial imputation of another's merits, is inconceivable, unless the law says, To obtain a reward thou must obey or some one else for thee--which never could be the form of moral law. But when a sinner's transgressions are expiated by an adequate atonement and he is restored to obedience, though he never can be on the score of justice entitled to favor himself, he may be properly loaded with benefits for the sake of one who by transcendent virtue and sacrifice deserves high reward from the government. But this is not a judicial transaction. It is extra-judicial, extra legal; but not contrary to law. Law never forbade such a transaction, though it is far above its scope to make provision for so high a procedure. In this sense the merits of Christ are imputed to his brethren and they share in the rewards which honor and emblazon his ineffable exploits in doing and suffering.

While we with Pres. Finney reject the old-school theory, we are most happy to say that we by no means hold that this theory practically repudiates the gospel. Its aim is to set forth the bitter evil of sin, the exceeding love and grace of God, the obligations of the sinner to the Savior; and thus it has brought to bear upon the heart the great ideas of the gospel. Through these great idea shining with their own wondrous light amid the cloud-piles of the theory, myriads of sinners have been brought to God and found their souls emancipated from condemnation and sin. But the theory itself never did any moral good; and happy is the man who, led to reject it, does not cast away along with it those great gospel ideas which make the worst imaginable theory that embraces them infinitely better than the best which ignores their glory. To us the sternest old-schoolism that loves Gethsemane and Calvary is infinitely preferable for the salvation of man to the superfinest theology that refuses to honor the vicarious cross of the Son of God.

We are glad Pres. Finney does not turn aside from his pulpit labors to newspaper controversy. It has never been his wont to do so. He has written only two short explanatory letters. It is our persuasion as well as his, that the objections urged in Britain are not urged here by new-school men, among whom his labors have usually been performed. Old-school theologians, till they greatly change their theories, will of course find fault with his theological system; but we hope not a few of them believe that he is a true servant of Jesus Christ.



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