The GOSPEL TRUTH
CHARLES G. FINNEY
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
"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.