The GOSPEL TRUTH
CHARLES G. FINNEY
To the Editor of The British Standard
22 March 1859
[Published in The British Standard (London), 25 March 1859, p. 93.]
REV. PROFESSOR FINNEY.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE BRITISH STANDARD.
SIR,--Until within a few hours I had not seen your issue of the 11th inst., and was not aware, as I now am, that your printer made me say in my hasty note in reply to Dr. Tregelles, the opposite of what I wrote on an important point. Apart from this, however, I wish to say that I am not at all satisfied with my note in reply to Dr. Tregelles. The fact is, I received the proof of his letter, and was unable at the time to give it more than one hasty reading. I wrote my note within a few moments after receiving his letter, and, on re-perusing both of our letters, I perceive that I have not replied to his reasonable inquiries in a manner at all satisfactory to myself. On reading more attentively his extracts from my reported lectures, I am myself surprised and shocked at some of the statements imputed to me. I am sure I never held any such views of justification as seem to be taught in those extracts. Nor can I believe that I ever said, without qualification, that man's nature is all right. If Dr. Tregelles has quoted rightly from those reported lectures, the reporter has imputed to me sentiments abhorrent to my very soul. My reading of his letter in proof was so hasty that I did not mark some of the phraseology imputed to me. I must not occupy space in your columns to quote much from his letter, but suffer one or two quotations. He quotes me as follows:-- "When we say that men are justified by faith and holiness, we do not mean that they are accepted on the ground of law, but that they are treated as righteous on account of their faith and works of faith." The italics are his. Now, this seems to say that men are justified for their works of faith. Yet, in the next sentence but one that is quoted,--for something is omitted in the extract, as is indicated by stars,--it is added, "If they repent, and believe, and become holy, their past sins shall be forgiven for the sake of Christ." Here, again, the italics are his. But why not italicise the words shall be forgiven for the sake of Christ? Then the passage would have meant simply that faith, repentance, or return to obedience, were conditions of forgiveness. Who will dispute this? It seems to me that these extracts cannot fairly represent the lecture from which they were quoted, for I think I could not have let them pass under my eye as they took the book form, without noticing the error that is apparent in them. This lecture, with the others in the volume, were extensively circulated and read in America at the time, and I do not recollect to have heard it complained of as unsound.
I am not aware that I hold any peculiar views on the subject of moral depravity or justification not commonly held at the present day by what are commonly called Moderate Calvinists on the other side of the Atlantic. At any rate, I have always declared my views freely in the New School, Presbyterian, Baptist, and Congregational churches, in which I have laboured abundantly, without having my views on either of those points called in question by them that I am aware of.
The Hyper-Calvinists have complained of me, and of the mass of the above-named churches as well, on these points. I know how difficult it is to critically state one's doctrinal views in words in such a manner as to be universally understood. The inspired writers, and even Christ, could not do this. Not, therefore, to pursue the extracts of Dr. Tregelles, I will try to state in the fewest words my views on the points of his inquiry. I shall not now attempt to justify, but only to state them. 1. In respect to the fall of man I hold that Adam fell into a state of death "in trespasses and sins;" that this was a state of voluntary subjection to his propensities, "fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind," and that, in this respect, all his posterity follow his example, and hence are by nature,--i.e., in their natural, as opposed to their renewed state,--children of wrath. I believe that the moral depravity of the whole race, as, in some way, a consequence of Adam's first sin, is total; that this depravity is a voluntary state of mind for which every human being is entirely responsible. I believe that mankind are fallen into a sinful voluntary state, and not into a sinful nature, or constitution. I believe that this depravity consists in the carnal mind, or in the minding of the flesh; not in the flesh, but in the minding of the flesh,--not in the constitutional desires, but in the "fulfilling of those desires." I believe, further, that, so intensified is this carnal-mindedness, or, in other words, this committal to self-gratification, that in no case does any human being incline to God or truly seek Him until persuaded to do so by the Holy Spirit. God first seeks and draws them, or they will never seek Him. All the above I believe and teach. I believe that the human constitution is greatly out of balance; so that, in fact, it is the occasion, not the necessary cause of the sins of the race.
2. In regard to justification, I hold and teach, and ever have done so, that man is in no degree justified by works of law or works of faith; that faith, repentance, and return to obedience are conditions, not grounds, of our justification by grace through faith. I hold that the vicarious work and death of Christ were designed to honour the law that man had dishonoured, and thus to render it safe and just in God to justify the penitent believer in consideration of what Christ has done and suffered for the race; that God graciously gives to man the full benefit of Christ's mediatorial work, and in this sense imputes to him the active and passive obedience of Christ. I do not believe, with the Hyper-Calvinists, that Christ literally paid the full debt due to Divine justice, so that there is no grace in the pardon of sin; or, rather, so that, in fact, there is nothing to forgive, the full debt having been paid by Christ. But I do believe, that Christ's life and death, for the race, so honoured the law, both in its precept and penalty, that, for His sake, the penitent believer is "freely justified by grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." I am not aware that the above views are "Finneyism," or any other than Bible-ism. I hold them in common with, so far as I know, all the ministers and churches with which I have laboured for many years past. If they have dissented from these views I have not been aware of it. I have neither time nor inclination for controversy. I do not intend to be diverted from my work by being drawn into it. I conclude by saying that, as the extracts published by him are found in his letter, and seem to teach, I repudiate them as a caricature and perversion of any views I ever held or taught. As I have not the lectures at hand, I cannot say whether the extracts are fairly made. It may be they are, and that the reporter thus far misreported my views. It is not a little curious that your printer, in the short note I sent you, so far misrepresented me, as follows:--I said "Faith, repentance, and return to obedience are not (the printer put more for not) grounds of justification,--i.e., not (not again omitted) that for which we are justified." Thus, by leaving out two nots in one sentence he made me say the opposite of what I believe and said.--Yours truly,
C. G. FINNEY.
9, South-terrace, Grosvenor-park, Camberwell-
gate, London, March 22, 1859.
In another column, Dr. Campbell added the following editorial comment:
The letter of Mr. FINNEY clears the ground for an Editorial deliverance on the whole subject, which is ready, but stands over for want of space. It will, however, appear next week. All those gentlemen who have written to us will now see the propriety of keeping back their letters; and we are sure that they will be glad that Mr. FINNEY has done this act of homage to the Christian public, and of justice to his own ministerial reputation. His deliberate views, whatever may be thought of them, are now fairly, fully, and correctly before the world.
The main portions of Finney's letter was also published in The Watchman (London), 30 March 1859, p. 103, under the title "Mr. Finney's Theological Views" which ended with an editorial comment: "A Minister, who has written to us respecting the above correspondence, will see that we have anticipated his request."
A further letter from Dr. Tregelles appeared in The British Standard (London), 1 April 1859, p 101:
TO THE EDITOR OF THE BRITISH STANDARD.
SIR,--Allow me to correct an error of the compositor in one of the extracts which I sent you from Professor Finney's Lectures; it should stand, "Jesus Christ was bound to obey the law for Himself, and could no more perform works of supererogation than anybody else." This word "bound," by a change of one letter, was printed "found," though I corrected it in the slip which I returned to your office.
In quoting from Professor Finney's Lectures, I did it in the supposition that they had been published by himself. I hold that a man is not necessarily responsible for all that a reporter may attribute to him. In making those extracts twenty years ago, I only sought to ascertain his sentiments; and I have never had an opportunity of becoming acquainted with his later works. My recent inquiry was, "Does he now hold these doctrines?" and I think that, as he has since said that he is both surprised and shocked at some of the statements imputed to him, it would have been more satisfactory if he had stated this at once, with a specification as to what doctrines he thus fully repudiates, which were formerly put forth with the sanction of his name.
The counter-charge of Hyper-Calvinism is one that I but little regard. I have yet to be taught that the notion of Hyper-Calvinism is involved in the doctrine that "original sin standeth, not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk), but it is that fault and corruption of the nature of every man that naturally is ingendered of the offspring of Adam." This I hold, in common with all the confessions of faith at the Reformation, to be the most sure doctrine taught by the Holy Ghost in the Word of God: and I do not know what is meant by the vicarious sacrifice of Christ, unless we believe (which Professor Finney says that he does not) "that Christ literally paid the full debt due to the Divine justice,"--a doctrine which (I need not say) does not exclude grace in the pardon of sin.--I remain yours very truly,
S. P. TREGELLES.
6, Portland-square, Plymouth, March 26, 1859.
Dr. Campbell's "Editorial deliverance" was published in three parts as follows. The first part was published in the Standard of 1 April 1859, p. 100:
The Rev. C. G. FINNEY, in the letter which we published last week, has, at length, spoken deliberately and explicitly touching the several points raised by the letter of Dr. TREGELLES, who has done good service in affording Professor FINNEY an opportunity of setting himself right with the British churches. His views are now fairly before them; and it is for them to say how far they deem those views satisfactory. There are, we presume, points in the explanation which still require to be explained; there are depths in the evangelical economy not to be sounded by the line and the plummet of human reason. Professor FINNEY resembles, in this as in some other respects, another great and good man, RICHARD BAXTER, who wrote elaborate treatises with a view to reconcile the differences of Christians, which only served greatly to enlarge the area, and indefinitely to multiply the means of contest! All attempts to define what is incomprehensible and to distinguish between points which are impalpable, must ever be vain. The excellent Professor says:--
I believe that the moral depravity of the whole race is , in some way, a consequence of Adam's first sin, is total. That this depravity is a voluntary state of mind for which every human being is entirely responsible. I believe that mankind are fallen into a sinful voluntary state, and not into a sinful nature, or constitution. I believe that this depravity consists in the carnal mind, or in the minding of the flesh. Not in the flesh, but in the minding of the flesh. Not in the constitutional desires, but in the "fulfilling of those desires."
In these few words there is, we think, material enough for a wide discussion. For our own parts, we frankly confess we do not fully understand them; and, so far as we do,--or think we do,--we feel inclined to dispute them.
Touching the matter of "justification" also, although on this point Mr. FINNEY is radically sound, yet the phraseology even of his last letter is liable to strong exception. Men of disciplined minds, deeply conversant with matters of theology, will be unhesitating in their disapproval. Still, the last epistle is an immense improvement on its predecessor; and it will, we trust, go a great way to relieve the minds of Mr. FINNEY's numerous and ardent friends. Pity it is he did not thus reply in the former instance!
Ever since the appearance of Mr. FINNEY's letter we have been receiving communications, all,--with one exception, from a Wesleyan minister, --strongly animadverting on the Extracts set forth by Dr. TREGELLES, and the Professor's reply, which was unanimously held to be unsatisfactory; and most of them, indeed,--we must be frank,--courteously but warmly remonstrating with ourselves for what they were pleased to call our "partiality" to the Professor. They charge us with not "acting fairly by the Christian public," by the "truth itself," and by our own "recognised character" as professed "defenders of the ancient faith."
Now, we feel that this is rather hard measure, but as proceeding from able, devout, and zealous men, jealous for the Gospel, and our own steadfast friends, we take it all in good part. They have, however, been misled by circumstances; we could not do otherwise than we have done. The case was not open for us to step in. The matter, at the outset, lay wholly between Dr. TREGELLES and Professor FINNEY. The probabilities, accordingly, were that there might be some discussion; and in that event, until it should be finished, propriety interdicted both others and ourselves from interfering. Had such discussion ensued, at its close it would then have been competent for others to express their opinions. Proper time having been allowed and no discussion having taken place, then the way would have been equally clear. We, therefore, paused to give the parties proper time; at length Mr. FINNEY replied to Dr. TREGELLES; and, after further delay, he wrote to correct the said reply. He has, therefore, had the whole matter to himself. Our friends will, therefore, see both the wisdom and the justice of the course we have pursued.
A word now touching the matter of "partiality." We freely confess our high esteem,--yea, our strong affection,--for Mr. FINNEY and his excellent wife. It could not be otherwise. When they were last in England, some nine or ten years back, it was our privilege to have them nearly twelve months under our roof, and every week only served to endear them more and more both to us and ours. Mr. FINNEY beyond most men requires to be fully known to be correctly estimated. He is in mixed society generally reserved, blunt, stern, and occasionally somewhat supercilious; in a word, strikingly American; but in the friendly circle he is quite another man. He unbends, and becomes one of the gentlest, the humblest, the most affectionate and engaging men we ever knew.
Such is Professor FINNEY, and if regard for any man could lead us astray we should be in danger; but no human regards can for one moment be allowed to interfere with our loyalty to evangelical truth! Sooner than prove false to that, we stand prepared a thousand times to sacrifice every friendship on earth! But our regards were subjected to no such ordeal. During the long period referred to we were constantly hearing Mr. FINNEY in public, and freely conversing with him at our own fireside, and we never listened to an utterance such as the Extracts in question. This we frankly stated the other week when we published the alarming letter of Dr. TREGELLES. To all this our memory fully testified. But, roused by the Extracts, in order to fortify our recollection, we sat down and carefully examined the whole of the sermons preached by Mr. FINNEY in the Tabernacle, and published from week to week, and found in them not a single sentence to which serious exception could be fairly taken.
Although cheered with this, we went further, and had recourse to his great work, "Systematic Theology," to which he refers Dr. TREGELLES, which we examined on the point in hand with the utmost care; and here, we feel in candour bound to say, there is a good deal we could have wished to have been very differently expressed. Nor is this all; views are occasionally set forth from which we entirely and strongly dissent, but in a great measure the question is one of language rather than of truth.
Campbell goes on to examine the doctrines of justification and depravity as held by Finney in his Lectures on Systematic Theology. Campbell's second part was published in the Standard for 8 April 1859, pp. 108-9. These two parts brought forth a remonstrance by John Weir, Presbyterian minister in Islington, against him for being too partial towards Finney. It was published in the Standard of 15 April 1859, p. 117. Campbell's third part of his examination of Finney's theology was published in the same issue on page 116.
The whole debate brought a further communication from "W. L." in the Standard of 29 April 1859, p. 133:
PROFESSOR FINNEY'S THEOLOGY.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE BRITISH STANDARD.
SIR,--Allow me, in common with thousands of Christian brethren in our British churches, to thank you for the candid and impartial way in which you have reviewed Mr. Finney's writings. I know the high estimation in which you hold that remarkable man, and the confidence you had in his ability and success as a revivalist preacher. Some of us, indeed, thought that you carried your admiration too far, and that your generous enthusiasm might have tempted you to say, in the words of Cicero respecting Plato's writings, "Errare malo cum Platone quam cum istis vera sentire." But you have nobly redeemed your character for fearless impartiality, and have shown your adherence to the good old maxim,--Amicus Plato, sed magis amica Veritas. I consider that the churches are under great obligations to Dr. Tregelles for bringing into view the novel and startling doctrines of the American Professor on the all-important subjects of justification and original depravity. Mr. Finney's reply to Dr. Tregelles' communication was by no means satisfactory, and his subsequent explanation, though more elaborate and explicit, amounts rather to a vindication rather than a retraction of the obnoxious sentiments imputed to him. One ground of defence was, that the "Lectures to professing Christians" were not prepared for the press by himself, but were taken down during delivery by a reporter, and published by the latter on his own responsibility, and that, consequently, he was not accountable for all the expressions contained in the volume. But it did seem strange that any preacher could allow a work treating on the fundamental doctrines of the Gospel, to go forth into the world, under the sanction of his name, without his having taken an opportunity carefully to revise and correct the sheets as they passed through the press. It seemed still more unaccountable that Mr. Finney should have scarcely ever seen the volume since the date of its publication, twenty years ago; that he should have had no recollection of the passages quoted by Dr. Tregelles; and that he should have had no copy of the work at hand to which he could refer with a view to collate the quotations, so as to ascertain their fairness or correctness; for, the work having been republished in this country, surely some of his English friends could easily have procured a sight of it. But if these lectures were published on the same plan with the "Lectures on the Revival of Religion" there is some doubt whether the author can reasonably avail himself of this apology; for it is evident that the volume on revivals was submitted, by the reporter, to the final revision and correction of the preacher. Thus, in the reporter's address prefixed to that volume, he observes, "In preparing them (the lectures) for publication in this form, Mr. Finney has reviewed them with reference only to this point, the correct expression of sentiment." And again, "Mr. Finney has done little more than to amend where the reporter misapprehended the meaning, or did not express it with sufficient distinctness." And in the lecturer's own preface, he says, "In correcting the lectures for a volume, I have not had time, nor was it thought advisable, to remodel them, and change the style in which they had been reported. I have, in some few instances, changed the phraseology when a thought had been very awkwardly expressed, or when the true idea had not been given." I regret I have no access to this second volume, but it is to be presumed that the lectures contained in it to professing Christians must have undergone some such revision as that above, and consequently that the author must be held responsible for the sentiments, if not for the mode of expression. The volume on revivals first appeared in this country at a time when there was a good deal of religious excitement, and, from the valuable counsels contained in it--the result evidently of much experience and observation--was extensively circulated. Some, indeed, thought the style too colloquial and familiar for the pulpit, descending (as in the fourteenth lecture) too nearly to the ludicrous; but there was but one opinion as to their utility and practical tendency; and when the lectures to professing Christians were announced for publication, the religious public was all eagerness to see it. But the expectation of many was doomed to disappointment, and not a few judicious persons were mortified and stumbled by the very passages quoted by Dr. Tregelles. I remember one lady in particular, whose piety, intelligence, and charity have seldom been exceeded, who was so much shocked with the flippant, not to say irreverent, way in which the merit of Christ's righteousness was spoken of, that she actually committed the volume to the flames, in case any of her servants should take it up and have their minds confused and injured by its perusal.
I am glad, however, that in reviewing Mr. Finney's sentiments on the points in dispute you have had no occasion to refer to works published at second-hand, but have appealed at once to his system of theology, published with Dr. Redford's imprimatur, which must be considered as expressing his real sentiments, deliberately formed and regularly taught in the course of lectures delivered to the students in his own seminary, and where no such caveat is admissible. In these, unfortunately, we discover the same recklessness of assertion on points "most surely believed among us," and confounding of things that differ, which appear in his published discourses. I trust the result of your intrepid conduct and seasonable warning will be to confirm the churches more than ever "in the faith one delivered to the saints," and to put our younger brethren on their guard against all rash innovations and dangerous speculations in the Divine science of theology, whether proceeding from the German or the Transatlantic school.--I am yours, &c., W. L.
In commenting in his Memoirs on these exchanges, Finney wrote of Tregelles and Campbell:
They both of them strangely misunderstood my position, and got up in England at this time a good deal of opposition to my labors. ... However I paid no attention publicly to Dr Campbell's strictures on the subject. They injured him a great deal more than they did myself. I was not at that time laboring in his congregation; and a great many of his readers,--perhaps falsely, but they in fact did impute to him other motives than concern for orthodoxy in what he wrote at that time (Memoirs, p. 582).
This word is written as in the published version.
This may have been John Moore. Clippings from The British Standard 11 March 1859, containing the first letter of Dr. Tregelles and Finney's reply, and the second part of Campbell's editorial from the Standard of 8 April 1859 (with the date written in John Moore's handwriting) are pasted into the scrapbook which belonged to Moore's son, Charles Grandison Moore (in the possession of Richard Dupuis).
In the Preface to the book, dated New York, 16 March 1837, Finney wrote:
I have made but very slight alterations and additions in revising them, for the following reasons:
1. Their publication was determined on too late, so that I had very little time.
2. My ill health and multiplied duties forbade.
3. To have enlarged them much would have swelled the volume beyond the contemplated size.
4. From experience I have learned that the conversational and condensed style in which they were reported, is more interesting and edifying to common readers, than a more elevated and less laconic style.
I have, therefore, left them as they were reported, with a few verbal and trifling alterations.
In a letter dated 20 April 1859, Thomas Lawson of Manchester wrote to Finney about Dr. Campbell's articles:
I seriously think the Dr. has in this case overstepped the legitimate limits of the Newspaper province. I think it possible for a man to cheat himself by always thinking that in every controversy he is inspired by love for truth. Very often instead of it being love for truth, it is love for mere opinion. I fear the latter has influenced the Dr. in this controversy.