The Oberlin Evangelist
May 27, 1857
PRESIDENT FINNEY, BOSTON AND OBERLIN.
It may be well that our readers should know the reception which President Finney has had in Boston, the opposition which has been arrayed against him, and the way that opposition manifests itself against Oberlin College. Knowing this, they can better appreciate our position, and will better know how to pray for us and for all the interests of the Savior's kingdom.
It is said by the Boston correspondent of the N.Y. Observer that
"Only two of our Congregational Churches, with their pastors, manifested any particular interest in his (Pres. Finney's) presence or work among us, or gave him any encouragement in his labors. With the exception of Park Street and Shawmut, none of our Congregational Churches or their pastors committed themselves to the idea that it was well for him to be here."
The paragraphs below from the Boston correspondent of the N.Y. Evangelist may be presumed to give in a mild way the attitude which they hold towards Pres. Finney and Oberlin. The letter bears date May 2, '57, shortly after Pres. F. closed his labors there, and says:--
"Rev. Charles G. Finney labored here between four and five months, preaching nearly every evening, and holding numerous meetings for prayer, exhortation, and instruction to inquirers. These meetings were well attended, and many of them were scenes of deep and solemn interest. Many Christians felt themselves greatly benefited by his faithful and pointed discourses, and many who were before strangers to the power of the gospel, are thought to have been converted. The number of hopeful conversions has been stated in some of your papers to be probably not less than five or six hundred. Such statements, however, must not be received as wholly reliable, since no one at such a time can speak, with well grounded confidence, of the number of persons that have been savingly renewed.
"The full results of Mr. Finney's long and arduous labors in this Metropolis of New England, cannot now be known. Probably he himself would speak of them with caution. But that he made many friends while here, and would be welcomed back again by many who attended upon his ministrations, there can be no doubt. A very handsome sum of money, $1,500, was raised and presented to him and Mrs. Finney on their departure. Besides this, it is said that some $8,000 was subscribed toward the endowment of a Professorship at Oberlin. The wisdom of this last step will be doubted by many who are friends of Mr. Finney. They will think the money could have been better appropriated to an institution where no peculiar theology is taught.
"The Congregational ministers and churches in New England generally adhere--at least this is to be hoped--to the doctrines of the Westminster Catechism, and it hardly becomes them to foster a Theological Institution in which any of these doctrines are repudiated or undervalued. The precise state of theological opinion at Oberlin is little known here, but the general impression is certainly not in its favor. So far as the system taught there has any novelty or any peculiarities, it is supposed to be, not in the line of Scriptural and immutable truth, but of plausible, and to ardent minds, seductive error. The Oberlin idea of Christian perfection, that is, a perfection actually attained in the present life, is not, to any considerable extent, received by the orthodox Congregation Churches in New England. It is generally regarded not only as untrue in fact, but as pernicious in its tendency--and hence the number in our churches is small, as it always has been, who would think it the wisest appropriation of money to build up the Oberlin Institute. Much as may be the good it will accomplish, they think more might be done with the same money in connection with some other institution, where truth is taught with a less admixture of error."
The special objects apparent in this letter, are,
1. To vindicate those Boston pastors and churches who stood aloof from Mr. Finney and his labors.
2. To counteract the efforts made to endow a Professorship of Systematic Theology in Oberlin College.
3. By consequence to embarrass and even frustrate the labors of the Oberlin brethren and friends to educate an earnest and evangelical gospel ministry.
The argument is extraordinary. It admits that the efforts made by and with Pres. Finney have been eminently useful both to professed Christians and to men of no profession, and at least seems to admit that the Lord Jesus did not stand aloof and withhold his countenance and aid; yet in the same breath with these admissions, he maintains that the doctrines underlying this faithful and effective preaching, when taught theologically by the same man in a school for the purpose, are dangerous heresy. The truth which manifestly saves men--so manifestly that even unfriendly critics admit the fact, must not be taught theologically, lest it curse the churches and block the car of salvation!
The philosophy of this solecism must be sought in some one of the following suppositions:
Either that the same truth which, coming from the pulpit blesses and saves; coming from the theological chair, curses and kills; Or, that the same man, from the pulpit preaches saving truth, but from the chair of the recitation room, lectures "plausible," "seductive" error: or that the Boston recusant pastors concede the utility of the preaching because they must, yet, for reasons not obvious, deny the soundness of the theology.
It is not for us to name or conjecture these reasons. Whether those pastors are subjectively sinless or sinful, we are thankfully quit of the responsibility of deciding.
Objectively considered, it was a grievous wrong to the cause of Christ to stand aloof from a special effort for the salvation of souls in Boston. It does not lessen that wrong to come out now in opposition to the influence of Oberlin Theological Seminary. But subjectively considered, how the question of wrong stands as between their souls and God, we presume not to say.
As to this correspondent's views of Oberlin Theology, they are manifestly tinged a little with both ignorance and suspicion. Partly, he does not know what is taught there, and partly he is afraid there is something wrong.
We wish he would come and see, even as Barnabas went to Antioch (Acts xi.) when the Jerusalem brethren were partly ignorant and partly suspicious of the brethren there. "For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and faith." Consequently, "when he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad."
We prefer the Boston pastors should test us upon the Bible rather than the Westminster Catechism. If upon the latter, however, we should beg them to discriminate between its theology and its philosophy--leaving us free to question the latter, and not be denounced for heresy therefor.
Nay, further, we should ask a discrimination between theology as taught in Scripture soundly interpreted, and as moulded by philosophy, falsely so-called. With these discriminations, we should not object to go into the Westminster Catechism. But after all, we confess to a decided preference for the Bible every way--both for the theology of our pulpits and the theology of our schools.
In fine, our theology has no concealments. It does not become us to obtrude it, nor to disguise it. We have a conviction that if those Boston pastors would candidly examine it, they would know more about it than they do now, and would fear it less. We do not affirm that it is every body's duty to make himself acquainted with the views of theology held by the brethren of Oberlin; but only that it is the duty of that man specifically, who feels himself called to resist the endowment of its Theological School, and to defend himself and his brethren for not co-operating in a great and successful effort to evangelize their own city. That man ought first to know whereof he affirms.
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