To the Editor of The New York Evangelist

c. November 1853


[Ms in Finney Papers, Microfilm Roll 8]


This is the draft of a letter to W. H. Bidwell, editor of The New-York Evangelist. It is unfinished and was probably never sent. It was not published. It may have been written when Finney was in Cleveland in November 1853. (See his letter to Henry Cowles, 22 November 1853 in Cowles Papers, Oberlin College Archives, 30/27.)


For the New York Evangelist.

Dear Br. Bidwell.

I have just read Dr. Beechers book

"The Conflict of ages." & am greatly surprised

athe some of its main positions. Had I leisure

at present for such a work I would put some

searching questions for the consideration of its

respected author. At present, I can only with your

leave notice two of its extraordinary positions.

The first that I notice is that upon which the whole

book is built & aside from which the book can

have no consistent meaning. The author assumes

throughout the entire work that there is & always

has been a conflict between the human conscience

& God in regard to human sinfulness or moral

depravity. He brings forward the various theories by

means of which theologians have endeavored to

account for the universal moral depravity of man

in consistency with the honor & integrity of God.

His book is an attempt to shew that none of those theories

have satisfied all minds & been proposes the theory

of preexistence as one that ought to set the

question at rest. I will not here state the many

[page 2]

difficulties of this theory but rather call attention

to the false assumption upon which the whole

book rests. The fact is that no such controversy or

conflict as he supposes ever did or can by any

possibility exist, ever in a single mind. His book

has made a false issue, or assumed the existence of an

issue when there is none. There never was & never can be

an issue between the human conscience & God in

regard to the inexcusable nature & the guilt of sin.

Such a supposition is absurd & a denial of the

very nature of conscience. God condemns all sin.

So does conscience. God condemns nothing as sin which is

not recognized as such by the human conscience.

But the very recognition of an act or state of mind

as sinful, by the conscience is a justification of

God & a condemnation of the sinner. In other

words, self condemnation is an ultimate fact of

consciousness, in every instance of sin recognized

by the conscience. This is a universal truth. A truth

involved in the very nature of conscience. Whatever

the conscience justifies or excuses it does not, can

not call sin. In every instance in which the human

conscience recognizes sin what ever the circumstances

may be under which it may have occurred the

self condemnation, in those identical circumstances

[page 3]

is an ultimate fact, & a fact implied in

the very recognition of the act or state

as sinful. God is justified & self condemned

in every possible recognition of sin by the

human conscience, & to assert the contrary

is to affirm a palpable absurdity. What does

the conscience mean by sin? There is , there

never was & never can be, the least discrepancy

between God & the conscience of any moral

agent in regard to the inexcusable nature

of sin, whatever the circumstances or occasions

of its existence in any possible case may be.

The very fact of its being by the conscience recog

nized as sin is in itself a condemnation

of self & a justification of God. To deny this

is to ignore the very ideas of both sin & conscience.

What then does this book mean or amount to?

Suppose men have failed in their speculations to

bring forward any theory of the occasions of sin

that have harmonized all opinions. What then. This

fact remains, in which all do & must agree, that in

the identical circumstances in which sin is recog

nized by the conscience as existing, in any & every case,

self condemnation, & God justification are ultimate

facts of consciousness. All theories apart, or not

withstanding, this is & alwa[y]s must be the necessary testimony

[page 4]

of the human conscience. How could the author

of this book overlook this fact & write a book to

justify God & condemn sin, at the bar of

conscience? No such justification of God & condem

nation of sin is or ever can be needed, & the

very supposition as I have said ignores both

the nature of both sin & of conscience.

Under no possible circumstances can sin be recog

nized as sin, by the conscience, without in the

very recognition itself, justifying God & condemn

ing the sinner. To affirm the opposite is to affirm

a palpable contradiction. The conflict is between

the human will & God & not between God & the

human conscience. The conflict among men on

this subject has consisted in holding different

theories in accounting for the occasions of sin.

While sin is recognized as sin by the human con

science, no champion need ever appear to

justify God & condemn sin before the

tribunal of conscience. This book is therefore

based upon the assumption of an absurdity

& a contradiction. This is all I can at present

say upon this point.

The other startling position which I can now notice

is that the old school view of moral depravity is

a "deeper view" of human sinfulness than that

which regards all sin as voluntary.

[page 5]

1. Was Adam depraved in a preexistent

state. If not why was he so weak as to fall

under the first temptation.

2. Adam fell under the first temptation

& was as weak as his offspring.

3. Where then do we find the proff of that

original righteousness & Divine support &

powerful tendency to holiness which this

writer & others have assumed to have belon

ged to Adam & to have been demanded

by the law of honor & right.

The facts revealed shew that if free agency

is degraded in man now it was so in

Adam & that all this mighty talk about

what was due from God to him on

the principles of honor & right is

only a humbug.

He calls this old school the deeper view of depra

vity, but is it not manifestly a more superfic

ial view, of the guilt of sin than that of

the new school. Surely it is & must be.

Indeed he all all along assumes that his i.e. the old

school view justifies depravity except upon the supposition

of preexistence. And this is a deeper view of depravity.

[page 6]


Now ^ can this writer mean by moral deprav[it]y? For

his entire book is an effort to shew that

the moral depravity of the old school

is blameworthy i.e. that it is moral depravity

So this "deeper view" of moral depravi[t]y is no

moral depravity at all, in the sense of being

blame worthy, unless we resort to the theory

of preexistence to justify God, & condemn

it. Is this a "deeper view" of moral depravity

than that which regards all moral depravity

as consisting in the voluntary violation

of a known & infinitely reasonable & impo

rtant law. I have much that I wish to say

upon this point but at present I must forbare

This is most extraordinary to write a book to justify

God & condemn what he calls the more just &

deeper view of moral depravity.


Edward Beecher, The Conflict of Ages; or, The Great Debate on the Moral Relations of God and Man (Boston: Phillips Sampson & Co., 1853). The dedication in the front of the book is dated 27 August 1853, and it appears to have been published soon after.

This word has been smudged out.

Finney should probably have written the word "not" here.

i.e. proof.

The word has been repeated here.