The GOSPEL TRUTH
CHARLES G. FINNEY
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
The word has been repeated here.