To Henry Cowles

22 November 1853


[MS in Cowles Papers, Oberlin College Archives, 30/27]


Cleveland 22d Nov 1853.

Dear Br. Cowles.

I have just read your rem

arks on "The conflict of ages". They are

very good & conclusive against the theory.

In speaking with Br. Mahan of the Book

I thought him inclined to favor the

theory. But Br. M. is evidently breaking

down. He stated the true intent of the

book to be to show 1. That our immutable

convictions of right demand that every moral

agent should have a fair probation.

2. That in this life we have no such probation.

The true answer to this will come to you at

once. This is a question ultimately referable

to conscience when our first sin is committed

& adjudged. If we have had no fair proba

tion in respect to the first or any other sin

conscience can not condemn us. We should

have no consciousness of sin. The simple

question is does conscience in fact condemn

all our sin. Does it recognize it as sin. If

so then it justifies God & thus ends the

[page 2]

"Conflict of Ages." Perhaps you will do well

to press this home. So true as man has

an accusing conscience so truly is that

Book unsound. All theories apart this

ultimate fact every one knows to be

true. Upon Beecher's theory men should

not have had an accusing conscience

until the preexistent theory was establi

shed. And not even then unless this

preexistent state & its fair probation

can be brought home to our recollection.

Your answer covers this ground, but would

it not be well to expand & press this

point. I submit it to your judgment but

to me it seems that the issue as it was

in Br. Mahan's mind may be decided

beyond a contradiction, by reference to

the notorious fact that man has in

fact an accusing conscience.

What room then is left for a

conflict of ages.

Your last article on Secession is a nail

in a sure place.

Meetings here increasing in interest

Your Br. in haste

Love to Mrs. C. C. G. Finney.


Following the appearance of The Conflict of Ages; or, the great debate on the moral relations of God and man, by Edward Beecher, which was published in Boston by Phillips Sampson & Co. in 1853, Henry Cowles wrote an editorial entitled "The Conflict of the Ages" in The Oberlin Evangelist. He began:

This book fresh from the press, is attracting just now a somewhat general attention. Its cardinal doctrine is the PRE-EXISTENCE OF HUMAN SOULS. The author holds that all human souls lived and sinned in a previous state of existence. Thus he accounts for the tendency to sin with which we commence our moral agency in the present life, and for the universality of sin in our race. ... (The Oberlin Evangelist [23 November 1853], pages 188-189.)

Asa Mahan was living in Cleveland at this time, and was involved in various religious, educational and literary activities. See Edward H. Madden and James E. Hamilton, Freedom and Grace: The Life of Asa Mahan (Metuchen, N.J.: The Scarecrow Press Inc., 1982), chapter 5.

As a result of Finney's letter, Cowles did write another article, under the title "The Pre-existent Theory." It was published in The Oberlin Evangelist (7 December 1853), p. 196. It starts:

A much esteemed friend suggests that we should resume this subject and expand somewhat the views presented near the close of our former notice. ...

... We have taken up our pen at this time to make a single suggestion--viz: that we take the testimony of conscience on the question of a fair probation. ...

The second of a series of articles on "Secession" was published in The Oberlin Evangelist (23 November 1853), p. 189.