CHARLES G. FINNEY
October 26, 1853
For the New York Evangelist
[by The Rev. CHARLES G. FINNEY]
My Dear Br. Bidwell:--
In your paper of the 13th inst. I see the resolutions of the Synod of Albany, passed at their meeting on the 20th ult. Among them I perceive one condemnatory of the Fugitive Slave Law. This I approve; but the subjoined qualification seems to me either unintelligible or wholly inconsistent with the resolution. Will not the Synod, or some of its members, explain? The resolution is as follows: "Resolved, That we regard the Fugitive Slave Law as opposed to the revealed will of God; as at war with the liberty of our free colored population; as fraught with injustice and cruelty toward those who are struggling for freedom; and as unworthy of the age and of a people professing to be governed by the principles of humanity." To this is appended the following qualification: "Nothing in this report shall be construed as calling in question the power of Congress to pass such a law as is complained of."
Now, Mr. Editor, will you allow me to ask the members of that Synod what they mean by this qualification? What do you mean, brethren, by the word "power," italicized in this qualification? Do you mean that they have a right to pass such an act? If they have, why then you have no right to "complain" of it. Contradictory rights cannot exist. If you do not mean that they have a right to pass such a statute, what do you mean by their having "power" to do it? You say it is opposed to the revealed will of God. Do you mean to say that Congress has "power" to repeal the revealed law of God? If they have, then you have no right to "complain." Do you mean by "power" merely that, like other rebels against God, they have ability to sin against Him, by breaking his commandments and denying his authority? If this is your meaning I cannot see how this should be deemed a qualification of the foregoing resolution. Or do you mean that they have the constitutional authority to pass such a statute? If this is what you mean, then, taken with the resolution, it amounts to the assertion that the constitution authorizes legislation contrary to the revealed law of God. Does our constitution authorize legislation "opposed to the revealed will of God," "at war with liberty," "fraught with injustice and cruelty?" And do we nevertheless "profess" "to be governed by the principles of justice and humanity?" Indeed, if such is our constitution, where in do we profess what you say we profess? If such is our constitution, our profession, the most public that we could make, is anything but a profession of being either just or humane. Brethren, let me ask again, what do you mean by your "resolution and qualification?" I cannot imagine what you meant by "power" in this connection, unless it be either that God or the constitution has given them authority to set aside his revealed will. If God has authorized Congress to abrogate his law by their enactments, then we have a short hand method of getting rid of sin. "Where there is no law there is no transgression." If, then, Congress has authority ("power") to abrogate the Divine law, why not petition Congress to repeal the whole law of God and thus render sin impossible because there is no law to violate! If God has vested in Congress no such "power," but the constitution has, what is this but the admission that the framers of that investment, together with its supporters, are a set of impious infidels and blasphemers. Will you make the assertion that they are? Brethren, has not your resolution with your qualification placed this nation and yourselves in a most odious light! How can we understand you so as not to force us to this conclusion? Will you, or some of you reply? It appears to me to be serious times when a Synod can take such action as this. Are you not bound in justice to explain yourselves?
C. G. Finney
Oberlin College, Oct. 18, 1853.
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