To Theodore Ledyard Cuyler

February 1873


[Published in The New-York Evangelist (14 May 1891), p. 1.]


Theodore Ledyard Cuyler (1822-1909) was the minister of Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn from 1860 to 1890. He was a popular preacher and a prolific author, and had built up one of the largest Presbyterian churches in the U.S.A. In spite of being an Old School Presbyterian, educated at Princeton Theological Seminary, he had a deep appreciation of Finney and frequently mentioned him in his writings. There was, however, little contact between the two men. Cuyler had heard Finney preach once in 1858, but had not met him personally. The two men knew each other mainly from their respective writings, particularly articles that they both published from time to time in The Independent; and an intermittent correspondence grew up between them. Six letters written by Cuyler are preserved in the Finney Papers. When Finney died in August 1875, Cuyler wrote of him in an article "Jottings in and about Vacation" in The New-York Evangelist (26 August 1875), p. 1:

He was the giant of revivals, and has left not his like behind. To the last he was also an uncompromising Puritan in principles and practice. I wish I had by me now, some remarkable letters received from him in his later years. They were like molten steel for brightness and heat.

These letters have not come to light, but extracts from two of them were published by Cuyler.


In February 1869 Cuyler's "Blind Man's Sermon" published in The Independent, had drawn forth a response from Finney. The editor sent the letter on to Cuyler, who wrote back to Finney on 5 March 1869. Then in January 1872 Cuyler sent Finney a copy of an article entitled "What shall I do to be Saved" which he had just sent to The Independent for publication, and he also sent Finney a copy of Heart-Life which had been published for Cuyler by the Tract Society.


With only these few sporadic contacts between the two men, Cuyler was surprised in February 1873, by another letter he received from Finney. Eighteen years later, Cuyler referred to this letter in an article, "Under the Catalpa" published in The New-York Evangelist (14 May 1891), p. 1. He had just finished reading George Fredrick Wright's biography of Finney, which had recently been published:

After laying down the book, I got out and re-perused some of Finney's characteristic and very precious letters. In one of them, written in February, 1873, are the following sentences:

"While I am writing to you, I want to ask you if you would think me crazy in trying to persuade you to come and be my successor in this pastorate at Oberlin? I left in New York the largest congregation in the United States, to come here and preach to thousands on thousands of students; and although frequently urged to leave this field and labor in the greatest cities of this country and of England, I have thought and still think, that there is no more important field of ministerial labor in the world. I know that you have a great congregation in Brooklyn, and are mightily prospered in your labors; but your flock does not contain a thousand students pursuing the higher branches of education from year to year. Surely your field in Brooklyn is not more important than mine was at the Broadway Tabernacle in New York, nor can your people be more attached to you than mine were to me. I wish that you would come without delay and see Oberlin for yourself."

Now that President Finney has been in his grave for sixteen years, I may venture to take off the seal of secrecy from a letter which I hold more precious than any one received during a long ministerial life. We had never met personally, and he knew that I was a Presbyterian graduate of Princeton Seminary, and held staunchly to the theological views of my beloved teacher, Dr. Charles Hodge, with whom he had such warm controversies thirty-five years before. The letter showed how entirely the controversies between "Old" and "New School" had already become obsolete. When I mentioned this letter to Dr. Hodge a few weeks before his death, he was both startled and gratified, and he simply remarked that "his brother Finney became very sweet and mellow in his later years."


This extract was reprinted in "Rev. Theodore Cuyler and President Finney--An Important Letter" The Oberlin News (21 May 1891), p. 1


In his reply, dated February 28, 1873, Cuyler wrote:


Your most kind and fraternal letter--just received--touches me most tenderly.

That my plain, & practical articles contributed to the "Independent" should meet with your approval is to me a source of deepest gratification & encouragement. No living man's judgment on such productions carries more weight with me than your own. Although we have never exchanged a word orally - & I never was permitted to hear you preach but once (in 1858) yet I have come to revere & love you intensely. And this too in spite of the fact that I am a graduate of Princeton Seminary, & a warm personal friend of good old Dr. Hodge! So is the dear Master bringing into closer fellowship those who love Him "in sincerity."

Your proposal to be your "successor" (!) quite astounded me. So unexpected a tribute of your kind confidence melted me down -- & to tears. Oh! that I could come to Oberlin, & do my small part in carrying forward the blessed work in which you have so long & successfully labored ! I would delight in such a work.

But, my dear father Finney! God put me here - has blessed me here - is enlarging my work here & I do not dare to leave this field. I have always refused every invitation to quit a post of duty in which I have even more to do than my time & bodily strength are equal to. My church numbered lately 1590 communicants & we have just dismissed 122 members to form a new church. As I gathered this Laf. Ave Church I ought not to leave it. My conscience says "stay." You & I do not believe in voluntary violations of conscience.

I might add that in addition to my pastoral work, there is a wide field of benevolent & reformatory operations here with which I am identified & which I ought not to leave.

I thank you with all my heart for your generous confidence. I thank you for all you have done for me. (Your name is often heard in my pulpit). I thank you for your most solemn weighty utterances in this day of weak-knee'd & limber compromise with error. My heart is often sickened by the spectacle of degeneracy in doctrine & practice so fearfully prevalent, & I fervently wish that you had a new lease of life to begin afresh that noble work which you inaugurated forty years ago! But let me pray that the Master may anoint new ambassadors of His gospel equal to the emergencies! ...



The Independent, 25 February 1869, p. 1.

The Independent, 5 January 1872, p. 1.

There is a copy of this book in the Oberlin College Library

The words thousand students are in italics in the part of this extract which was published in "Pen-portraits of Eminent Preachers" The Treasury, Vol. 9, no. 6 (October 1891), p. 378. This indicates that Finney had probably underlined these words in his letter. That version of the extract was also republished in T. L. Cuyler, Recollections of a Long Life. An Autobiography (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1902), p. 219.