The GOSPEL TRUTH
CHARLES G. FINNEY
To John Phelps Cowles
29 June 1839
[MS in Finney Papers # 1258]
Beloved Br. Cowles. I am pursuaded that I ought no longer to neglect the opening
of my heart to you, upon some points, & as you & I are rather of a warm
temperament, I have thought it best to do it with my pen. I shall
speak in the kindness, fulness & simplicity of my heart, as to a brother
beloved, & rely upon your christian candor to receive it & construe
it with the spirit of a brother.
1. In regard to your reply to my note upon your criticism of the last
sabbath, I only observe, that what you grant "for arguments sake" is all
I contend for, or asserted on the sabbath, to wit, that the known
certainty that I shall not will, in a given manner, while
the object of the minds attention, renders the willing in
that given manner, naturally impossible, for the reason that motive suited
to the nature of mind, is essential to natural ability. With respect to the
time, manner & circumstances of your criticism, I must say
I thought them unsuitable.
2. With respect to your sermon on thursday, permit me humbly to
submit to your christian candor the following brief remarks.
1. You seemed to be laying down several truisms & zealously defending them
as if they were called in question. For instance. You said that the
law requires more than supreme love, & went on to define
supreme to be nothing more than greater love than we bear to
any thing or all things else. You made the law to require
the highest possible love, or to love "as much as we can".
To love God supremely, is according to Webster, to love him in the
highest degree, to the utmost extent. Now I am not aware that
this was ever denied by any one living. I thought you must
be aware that here, at least, we maintain as strongly as possible,
that the law requires the constant consecration of our whole
being to God. or as you expressed it, to love him as well as we can.
Now, My brother, it struck me that the inquiry is or ought to be, what
we can & can not do, & not whether we are required to do what
we can. This last, is regarded, so far as I know, as nearly a truism.
3. You next laid down the naked truism, with great emphasis, that
this is attainable! Certainly a selfevident proposition that one
can do what he can.
4. You next laid down the truism, with still greater emphasis, that
it is attainable now! this moment! Sel[f]evident truly that a
man is able now to do what he can now do.
5. You next proceeded very emphatically to affirm, that this is
the doctrine & long has been, of New England Divines. Certainly
a well known & universally conceded truth, that they maintain
its attainableness on the ground of natural ability, but you did
not say & I suppose you will not, that they maintain that the
provisions of grace are such that intire & permanent sanctification
may be aimed at with the reasonable prospect of success, in this life.
6. As to what you said of the tendency of Wesleys view, I would say.
1. If I rightly understand him he makes perfection to consist in
just what you do, with the exception of freedom from mist
ake. 2. The[r]e are sundry features of his system of doctrines
& discipline that manifestly tend to produce the results now witnessed
I have regard[ed] his perfectionism (though I think some of his statements
nonsensical or whimsical,) as that peculiarity of his system
that has for so long a time done much to counteract the downward
tendency of other hurtful things. I can by no means adopt
his system & few Calvinistic ministers I believe, have had more
collision with them than myself. I have several times seen it urged
against his perfectionism that it had been insisted on less & less from
his day till the present time, It was undeniably the grand peculi
arity of Wesley & his Coadjutors & if the assertion you alluded
to is true, we have only to witness the results of the personal labors
of those men & compare them with modern Methodists to tell
a loud story in favor of that peculiarity of their preaching.
I am not certain that a comparison of Wesleys Calvins & Luthers labors
would put W. in the back ground, in regard to vital godliness.
Perhaps my historical information is deficient in this respect.
7. Your remarks upon xts conversation with Simon (not Peter) suggested
the following inquiries. 1. Granting that loving other things has in some measure
developed our powers, can it be that they have been as fully developed as
if they had always had their appropriate & perfect exercise. If not
then sin has curtailed our capacity. If sin has more fully developed
them so that the more we have sinned the more we shall love, is not
sin the necessary means of the greatest good, & are not conversion
late in life, & much sin all our life, instead of high attainments
in holiness, preferable to the most desirable, as ultimately improving our
virtue & happiness?
2. Is it not a fact that an imperfect use, or abuse of our powers develops them less
than their perfect use, & that their deficiency can never be made up but by
a miraculous enlargement of our powers. This the law can not require.
3. Are we not bound therefore, to put a different construction upon that
passage, from that which you put upon it. It certainly admits
4. The doctrine that the more sin the greater our ultimate virtue,
appears to me to be monstrous, dangerous, & unscriptural.
5 There are My Dear Brother several other matters upon which I wish, at a
proper time to open my heart to you. One or two I must not
omit to mention now. I have learned with pain that for two
sabbaths past my preaching has been supposed to clash with
the views advanced by you the sabbath or two before. From your
skeleton before me I should hardly think it possible. But
it pains me that there should seem to be a discrepancy
of views between the preachers here. It has ever been a point
with me to avoid every appearance of collision with those
laboring with me in the same field, disunion will tie
all our hands, & I dread as I dread defeat in our
labors, a state of things [that] shall make us appear
to be arrayed against each other. Indeed such a
state of things would be intolerable to me. I can not
have controversy with my brethren who labor with
me in the same field. If we really disagree in our
views on sanctification, which I think we really do not,
in the great points, a candid prayerful & frank opening
up of our views to each other, in conversation, will
I trust, bring us together. To come out & preach against
each others views does not appear to me to be wise.
The remarks I have made upon your sermon on thurs
day evening, I should not have made but for the
manifestly & designedly controversial bearing of the
I beg of you Br. Cowles not to think hard of me for saying what I
have, nor think for a moment that I am going to turn your
accuser. I would infinitely sooner pour out my tears
& intreaties at your feet. I fear My Br. that I have not
wisdom enough to say those things to you as they need to be said.
I hope My Br. that you will suffer me without offence to say, with
pain, & in the fulness of my heart, that you probably are not
aware how much some things about you have disappointed,
& pained some of your best friends since your return
to O. I fear some of them have so dreaded to open their hearts
to you, that they have not dealt faithfully with you.
I would venture a few words about your influence in
the boarding house, did I not deem it the more appro
priate business of those who can speak from/e/x/p
May the Lord forgive & bless & beautify us both body soul
& spirit is the prayer of your devoted Brother in xt.
Oberlin 29. June 1839. C. G. Finney
Prof J. P. Cowles.
Prof. J. P. Cowles
2. Finney appears to have smudged out these letters.