My First Doctrinal Controversy with My Pastor and Other Events at Adams


Soon after I was converted I called on my pastor, and had a long conversation with him on the Atonement. He was a Princeton student, and of course held the limited view of the Atonement--that it was made for the elect and available to none else. Our conversation lasted nearly half a day. He held that Jesus suffered for the elect the literal penalty of the divine law--that He suffered just what was due to each of the elect on the score of retributive justice. I objected that this was absurd, as in that case He suffered the equivalent of endless misery multiplied by the whole number of the elect. He insisted that this was true. He affirmed that Jesus literally paid the debt of the elect, and fully satisfied retributive justice. On the contrary it seemed to me that Jesus only satisfied public justice and that that was all that the government of God could require. I was however but a child in theology. I was but a novice in religion and in biblical learning, but I thought he did not sustain his views from the Bible and told him so. I had read nothing on the subject except my Bible, and what I had there found upon the subject I had interpreted as I would have understood the same or like passages in a law book. I thought he had evidently interpreted those texts in conformity to an established theory of the Atonement. I had never heard him preach the views he maintained in that discussion. I was surprised in view of his positions and withstood them as best I could. He was alarmed, I dare say, at what appeared to him to be my obstinacy. I thought that my Bible clearly taught that the Atonement was made for all men. He limited it to only a part. I could not accept this view, for I could not see that he fairly proved it from the Bible. His rules of interpretation did not meet my views. They were much less definite and intelligible than those to which I had been accustomed in my law studies. To the objections which I urged, he could make no satisfactory reply. I asked him if the Bible did not require all who hear the Gospel to repent, believe the Gospel and be saved. He admitted that it did require all to believe and be saved. But how could they believe and accept a salvation which was not provided for them. Unused as I was to theological discussions, we went over nearly the whole field of debate between the Old and New School divines upon the subject of Atonement, as my subsequent theological studies taught me. I do not recollect to have ever read a page upon the subject except what I had found in the Bible. I had never, to my recollection, heard a sermon or any discussion whatever upon the subject. I thought I could see that Mr. Gale had a philosophy, a theory to maintain in the light of which he understood the Bible.

This discussion was often renewed and continued through my whole course of theological studies under him. He expressed concern lest I should not accept the orthodox faith. I believe he had had the strongest conviction that I was truly converted, but he felt the greatest desire to keep me within the strict lines of Princeton theology. He had it fixed in his mind that I would be a minister, and he took pains to inform me that if l did become a minister, the Lord would not bless my labors, and His Spirit would not bear witness to my preaching, unless I preached the truth. I believed this myself. But this was not to me a very strong argument in favor of his views, for he informed me--but not in connection with this conversation--that he did not know that he had ever been instrumental in converting a sinner. I had never heard him preach particularly on the subject of the Atonement, and I think he feared to present his particular views to the people. His church, I am sure, did not embrace his views of a limited Atonement. After this we had frequent conversations, not only on the question of the Atonement, but on various theological questions, of which I shall have occasion to speak more fully hereafter.

I have said that in the spring of the year the older members of the church began manifestly to decline in their engagedness and zeal for God. This greatly oppressed me, as it did also the young converts generally. About this time I read in a newspaper an article under the head of "A revival revived." The substance of it was, that in a certain place there had been a revival during the winter; that in the spring it declined; and that upon earnest prayer being offered for the continued out-pouring of the Spirit, the revival was powerfully revived. This article set me into a flood of weeping. I was at that time boarding with Mr. Gale. I took the article to him. I was so overcome with a sense of the divine goodness in hearing and answering prayer and with a felt assurance that He would hear and answer prayer for the revival of His work in Adams that I went through the house weeping aloud like a child. Mr. Gale seemed surprised at my feelings and my expressed confidence that God would revive His work. The article made no such impression on him as it did on me.

At the next meeting of the young people I proposed that we should observe a closet concert of prayer for the revival of God's work--that we should pray at sunrise, at noon, and at sunset in our closets and observe this for one week, when we should come together again and see what farther was to be done. No other means were used for the revival of God's work. But the Spirit of prayer was immediately poured out wonderfully upon the young converts. Before the week was out, I learned that some of them, when they would attempt to observe this season of prayer, would lose all their strength and be unable to rise from their knees, or even stand upon their knees in their closets; and that some of them would lie prostrate on the floor, and pray with unutterable groanings for the outpouring of the Spirit of God. The Spirit was poured out, and before the week ended all the meetings were thronged; and there was as much interest in religion, I think, as there had been at any time during the revival. And here I am sorry to say that a mistake was made, or perhaps I should say a sin committed, by some of the older members of the church, that resulted in great evil to them. As I afterwards learned, a considerable number of the older members of the church resisted this new movement among the young converts. They were jealous of it. They did not know what to make of it, and felt as if the young converts were too forward and were getting out of their places in being so forward and so urgent upon the older members of the church. This state of mind finally grieved the Spirit of God. After I left Adams, the state of religion run down. Brother Gale, their minister, was soon dismissed, being out of health. He went away to Western, Oneida County, N.Y., and went on a farm to see if it would not restore his health.

It was not long before alienations began to exist among those older members of the church, which finally resulted in great evil to those members who had allowed themselves to resist this latter revival. The young people held out well. The converts, so far as I know, were almost universally sound, and have been thoroughly efficient Christians.

In the spring of that year, I put myself under the care of the presbytery as a candidate for the Gospel ministry. Some of them urged me to go to Princeton to study theology, but I declined. When they asked me why I would not go to Princeton, I told them, which was true, that my pecuniary circumstances forbade it. But they said they would see that my expenses were paid. But I still refused to go, and when urged to give them my reasons, I plainly told them that I would not put myself under such an influence as they had been under; that I was confident they had been wrongly educated, and they were not ministers that met my ideal at all of what a minister of Christ should be. I told them this reluctantly, but I could not honestly withhold it. They appointed my pastor, Mr. Gale, to superintend my studies. He offered me the use of his library, and said he would give what attention I needed to my theological studies. But my studies, so far as he was concerned as my teacher, were little else than controversy.

He held to the Presbyterian doctrine of original sin, or that the human constitution was morally depraved. He held also that men were utterly unable to comply with the terms of the Gospel, to repent, to believe, or to do anything that God required them to do. That while they were free to all evil, in the sense of being able to commit any amount of sin, yet they were not free in regard to all that was good. That God had condemned men for their sinful nature, and for this, as well as for their transgressions, they deserved eternal death, and were under condemnation. He held also that the influences of the Spirit of God on the minds of men were physical, acting directly upon the substance of the soul. That men were passive in regeneration, and in short he held all those doctrines that logically flow from the fact of a nature sinful in itself. These doctrines I could not receive. I could not receive his views on the subject of Atonement, regeneration, faith, repentance, the slavery of the will, or any of their kindred doctrines. But of these views he was quite tenacious, and he seemed sometimes not a little impatient because I did not receive them without question. He used to insist that if I would reason on the subject, I should probably land in infidelity. And then he would remind me that some of the students who had been at Princeton had gone away infidels, because they would reason on the subject, and would not accept the Confession of faith, and the teaching of the doctors at that school. He furthermore warned me repeatedly, and very feelingly, that as a minister I should never be useful unless I embraced the truth, meaning the truth as he believed and taught it. I am sure I was quite willing to believe what I found taught in the Bible and told him so. We used to have many protracted discussions, and I would often come from his study greatly depressed and discouraged, and saying to myself, "I cannot embrace these views come what will. I cannot believe they are taught in the Bible." And several times I was on the point of giving up the study for the ministry altogether.

There was but one member of the church to whom I opened my mind freely on this subject, and that was an Elder Hinman, a very godly, praying man. He had been educated in Princeton views, and held pretty strongly the higher doctrines of Calvinism. Nevertheless as he and I had frequent and protracted conversations, he became satisfied that I was right; and he would call on me frequently to have seasons of prayer with me, to strengthen me in my studies and in my controversy with Brother Gale, and to decide me more and more firmly that, come what would, I would preach the Gospel. Several times he fell in with me when I was in a state of great depression, after coming from Brother Gale's study. At such times he would go with me to my room, and sometimes we would continue till a late hour at night crying to God for light and strength, and for faith to accept and do His perfect will. The old elder lived more than three miles from the village, and frequently he has stayed with me till ten or eleven o'clock at night, and then walked home. The dear old man! I have reason to believe that he prayed for me daily as long as he lived. After I got into the ministry and great opposition was raised to my preaching, which I shall have occasion to relate, I met Deacon Hinman, and he alluded to the opposition, and said, "O my soul is so burdened that I pray for you day and night. But I am sure that God will help. Go on," he said, "go on, Brother Finney; the Lord will give you deliverance."

One afternoon Mr. Gale and I had been conversing for a long time on the subject of the Atonement, and the hour arrived for us to attend the conference meeting. We continued our conversation on that subject until we got into the house. As we were early, and very few persons had arrived, we continued our conversation. The people kept coming in, and as soon as they came in would sit down and listen with the greatest attention to what we were saying. Our discussion was very earnest, though I trust conducted in a Christian spirit. The people became more and more interested as they came, in hearing our discussion, and when we said, "It is time to stop and commence our meeting," they earnestly begged us to proceed with our discussion and let that be our meeting. We did so, and spent the whole evening, I think very much to the satisfaction of those present, and I trust to their permanent edification on some points.

After I had been studying theology for a few months, and Mr. Gale's health was such that he was unable to preach, a Universalist minister came in and began to promulgate his objectionable doctrines. The impenitent part of the community seemed very much disposed to hear him, and finally people became so interested that there was a large number of people that seemed to be shaken in their minds in regard to the commonly received views of the Bible. In this state Mr. Gale, together with some elders of his church, desired me to address the people on the subject, and see if I could not reply to the arguments of the Universalist. The great effort of the Universalist was of course to show that sin did not deserve endless punishments. He inveighed against the doctrine of endless punishments as unjust, infinitely cruel, and absurd. God was love, and how could a God of love punish men endlessly? I arose one night in one of our meetings and said: "This Universalist preacher holds forth doctrines that are new to me, and I do not believe they are taught in the Bible. But I am going to examine the subject, and if I cannot show that his views are false, I will be a Universalist myself."

I then appointed a meeting the next week, at which time I proposed to deliver a lecture in opposition to his views. The Christian people were rather startled at my boldness in saying that I would be a Universalist if l could not prove that his doctrines were false. However, I felt sure that I could. When the evening came for my lecture, the house was crowded. I took up the question of the justice of endless punishments, and discussed it through that and the next evening. This settled the question in regard to the justice of endless punishments, I believe to the universal satisfaction of those that were present. I know I heard it expressed on every side that that course of argument was conclusive, and they wondered that Mr. Gale had not taken that subject up, and guarded his people against Universalism.

The Universalist himself found that the people were convinced that he was wrong, and then he took another tack. Mr. Gale, together with his school of theology, maintained that the Atonement of Christ was the literal payment of the debt of the elect, a suffering of just what they deserved to suffer; so that the elect were saved upon the principles of exact justice, Christ, so far as they were concerned, having fully answered the demands of the law. The Universalist seized upon this. Assuming that this was the real nature of the Atonement, he had only to prove that the Atonement was made for all men, and then he could show that all men would be saved, because the debt of all mankind had been literally paid by the Lord Jesus Christ; and that therefore because of the Atonement, Universalism would follow on the very ground of justice, for God could not justly punish those whose debt was paid. I saw, and the people saw--those of them who understood Mr. Gale's position--that the Universalist had got him into a tight place. For it was easy to prove that the Atonement was made for all mankind; and if the nature and value of the Atonement were as Mr. Gale held, universal salvation was an inevitable result. This again carried the people away; and Mr. Gale sent for me and requested that I should go on and reply to him again. He said that he understood the question on the ground of law was settled, but now I must answer his argument upon the ground of the Gospel. I said to him: "Mr. Gale, I cannot do it without contradicting your views on that subject, and setting them all aside. With your views of the Atonement he cannot be answered. For if you have got the right view of the Atonement, the people can easily see that the Bible proves that Christ died for all men, for the whole world of sinners; and therefore unless you will allow me to sweep your views of the Atonement all away, I can say nothing to any purpose." "Well," said Mr. Gale, "it will never do to let the thing remain as it is. You may say what you please; only go on and answer him in your own way. If I find it necessary to preach on the subject of the Atonement, I shall be obliged to contradict you." "Very well," said I, "let me but show my views, and I can answer the Universalist; and you may say to the people afterward what you please." I then appointed to lecture on the Universalist's argument founded on the Gospel. I delivered two lectures upon the Atonement. In these I think I fully succeeded in showing that the Atonement did not consist in the literal payment of the debt of sinners, in the sense in which the Universalist maintained. That it simply rendered the salvation of all men possible; and did not of itself lay God under any obligation to save anybody. That it was not true that Christ suffered just what those for whom He died deserved to suffer. That no such thing as that was taught in the Bible, and no such thing was true. But on the contrary, that Christ died simply to remove an insurmountable obstacle out of the way of God's forgiving sinners; so as to render it possible for Him to proclaim a universal Amnesty, inviting all men to repent, to believe in Christ, and to accept salvation. That instead of Christ's having satisfied retributive justice, and borne just what sinners deserve, He had only satisfied public justice, by honoring the law both in His obedience and death; and therefore rendering it safe for God to pardon sin, and to pardon the sins of any man, and of all men, who would repent and believe in Christ. I maintained that Christ in His Atonement merely did that which was necessary as a condition of the forgiveness of sin, and not that which cancelled sin, in the sense of literally paying the indebtedness of sinners.

This answered the Universalist, and put a stop to any farther proceedings or excitement on that subject. But what was very striking, these lectures secured the conversion of the young lady for whose conversion, as I have said, such earnest and agonizing prayer had been offered. This was very astounding to Mr. Gale, for here it was manifest that the Spirit of God had blessed my views of the Atonement. But he had unceasingly urged that God never would bless that view of the Atonement. This, I think, staggered him considerably in regard to whether he was right in his view. I could see in conversing with him, that he felt very much surprised that this view of the Atonement should be instrumental in converting that young lady. But after a great struggle with Mr. Gale in pursuing my theological studies, the presbytery was finally called together at Adams to examine me, and if they could agree to do so, to license me to preach the Gospel. I expected a severe struggle with them in my examination, but I found them a good deal softened. The manifest blessing that had attended my conversations, and my teaching in prayer and conference meetings, and in these lectures of which I have spoken, rendered them, I think, more cautious than they would otherwise have been in getting into any controversy with me. In the course of my examination, they avoided asking any such questions as would naturally bring my views into collision with theirs.

When they had examined me, they voted unanimously to license me to preach. Unexpectedly to myself, they asked me if I received the Confession of faith of the Presbyterian church. I had not examined it--that is, the large work, containing the Catechisms and Presbyterian Confession. This had made no part of my study. I replied that I received it for substance of doctrine, so far as I understood it. But I spoke in a way that plainly implied, I think, that I did not pretend to know much about it. However, I answered honestly, as I understood it at the time. They heard the trial sermons which I had written, on texts which had been given me by the presbytery, and went through with all the ordinary details of such an examination.

At this meeting of presbytery I first saw Rev. Daniel Nash, who is generally known as "Father Nash." He was a member of this presbytery. At Adams a large congregation assembled to hear my examination. I got in a little late, and saw a man standing in the pulpit speaking to the people, as I supposed. He looked at me, I observed, as I came in, and was looking at others as they passed up the aisles. As soon as I got to my seat and listened, I observed that he was praying. I looked again with surprise to see him looking all over the house, as if he was talking to the people, while in fact he was praying to God. But of course it did not sound to me much like prayer. And he was at that time indeed in a very cold and backslidden state. I mention him in this place because I shall have occasion frequently to mention him hereafter.

The next Sabbath after I was licensed, I preached for Brother Gale. When I came out of the pulpit he said to me: "Mr. Finney, I shall be very much ashamed to have it known, wherever you go, that you studied theology with me." This was so much like him, and like what he had repeatedly said to me, that I made little or no reply to it. I held down my head and felt discouraged and went my way. He afterwards viewed this subject very differently, and told me that he blessed the Lord that in all our controversy, and in all he had said to me, he had not had the least influence to change my views. He very frankly confessed his error in the manner in which he had spoken to and treated me, and said that if I had listened to him I should have been ruined as a minister.

The fact is that Brother Gale's education for the ministry had been entirely defective. He had imbibed a set of opinions, both theological and practical, that were a strait jacket to him. He could accomplish very little or nothing if he carried out his own principles. I had the use of his library, and ransacked it thoroughly on all the questions of theology which came up for examination; and the more I examined the books, the more was I dissatisfied. I had been used to the close and logical reasonings of the judges, as I found them reported in our law books. But when I went to Brother Gale's Old School library, I found almost nothing proved to my satisfaction. I am sure it was not because I was opposed to the truth, but I was dissatisfied because their positions were unsound and not satisfactorily sustained. They often seemed to me to state one thing and prove another, and frequently fell short of logically proving anything. I finally said to Mr. Gale: "If there is nothing better than I find in your library to sustain the great doctrines taught by our church, I must be an infidel." And I have always believed that had not the Lord led me to see the fallacy of those arguments, and the manner in which the truth was to be established from the Bible, and had He not so revealed Himself to me personally that I could not doubt the truth of the Christian religion, I should have been forced to be an infidel.

At first, being no theologian, my attitude in respect to his peculiar views was rather that of negation or denial, than that of opposing any positive view to his. I said, "Your positions are not proved." I often said, "They are unsusceptible of proof." So I thought then, and so I think now. But after all, he would insist upon it that I ought to defer to the opinions of the great and good men who, after much consultation and deliberation, had come to those conclusions. That it was unbecoming in me, a young man, bred to the profession of law and having no theological education, to oppose my views to those of the great men and profound theologians whose opinions I found in his library. He insisted that if I persisted in having my intelligence satisfied on those points with argument, I should be an infidel; and that I ought to accept those opinions, because they were the opinions of men who knew so much more than I did. He believed that the decisions of the church ought to be respected by a young man like me, and that I should surrender my own judgment to that of others of superior wisdom. Now I could not deny that there was a good deal of force in this, but still I found myself utterly unable to accept doctrine in the shape of dogma. If I tried to accept those doctrines as dogmas, I could not do it. I could not be honest in doing it; I could not respect myself in doing it. Often when I left Mr. Gale, I would go to my room and spend a long time on my knees over my Bible. Indeed I read my Bible on my knees a great deal during those days of controversy with Mr. Gale, beseeching the Lord to teach me His own mind on those points. I had nowhere to go but directly to the Bible, and to the philosophy or workings of my own mind as they were revealed in consciousness. My views took on a positive type but slowly. I at first found myself unable to receive his peculiar views; and secondly, gradually formed views of my own in opposition to them, which appeared to me to be unequivocally taught in the Bible.

But I have said that not only were Mr. Gale's theological views such as to cripple his usefulness, but his practical views were equally erroneous. Hence he prophesied with respect to my views every kind of evil. First, that the Spirit of God would not approve and cooperate with my labors; secondly, that if I addressed men as I assured him I intended to, they would not hear me, it would drive them away; thirdly, that if they came for a short time, they would soon become disgusted, and my congregations would all fall off'; fourthly, that unless I wrote my sermons I should immediately become stale and uninteresting, and would not interest the people; and fifthly, that I should divide and scatter congregations instead of building them up wherever I preached. Indeed I found his views to be almost the reverse of those which I entertained on all such practical questions relating to my duty as a minister. I do not wonder, and did not at the time, that he was shocked at my views and purposes in relation to preaching the Gospel. With his education it could not be otherwise. He followed out his views with very little practical result. I pursued mine, and by the blessing of God the results were the opposite of those which he predicted. When this fact came out clearly in my labors, it completely upset his theological and practical education as a minister. This result, as I shall mention in its place, annihilated his hope as a Christian, and finally made him quite another man as a minister.

But there was another defect in Brother Gale's education, which I regarded as fundamental. If he had ever been converted to Christ, he had failed to receive that divine anointing of the Holy Ghost that would make him a power in the pulpit and in society for the conversion of souls. He had fallen short of receiving the baptism of the Holy Ghost, which is indispensable to ministerial success. When Christ commissioned his apostles to go and preach, he told them to abide at Jerusalem till they were endued with power from on high. This power, as every one knows, was the baptism of the Holy Ghost poured out upon them on the day of Pentecost. This was an indispensable qualification for success in their ministry. I did not suppose then, nor do I now, that this baptism was simply the power to work miracles. The power to work miracles and the gift of tongues were given as signs to attest the reality of their divine commission. But the baptism itself was a divine purifying, a filling them with the Holy Ghost, bestowing on them a vast divine illumination, filling them with faith and love, with peace and power; so that their words were made sharp in the hearts of God's enemies, and were quick and powerful like a two-edged sword. This is an indispensable qualification of a successful minister. But this part of ministerial qualification Brother Gale did not possess. And I have often been surprised and pained that to this day so little stress is laid upon this qualification for preaching Christ to a sinful world. Without the direct teaching of the Holy Spirit, a man will never make much progress in preaching the Gospel. The fact is, unless he can preach the Gospel as an experience, present religion to mankind as a matter of consciousness, his speculations and theories will come far short of preaching the Gospel.

I have said that Mr. Gale afterwards concluded that he had not been converted. Whether this was true or not at the time I sat under his ministry, I cannot say. That he was a sincere, good man in the sense of honestly holding his opinions, I do not doubt. But he was sadly defective in his education, theologically, philosophically, practically and especially spiritually. He lacked the unction that is always an essential preparation for the Gospel ministry. So far as I could learn his spiritual state, he had not even the peace of the Gospel, when I sat under his ministry, and he certainly had not its power. Let not the reader from anything that I have said suppose that I did not love Mr. Gale, and highly respect him. I did both. He and I remained the firmest friends, so far as I know, to the day of his death. I have said what I have in relation to his views, because I think it applicable, I am afraid I must say, to the great majority of the ministers even of the present day. I think that their practical views of preaching the Gospel, whatever their theological views may be, are very defective indeed; and that their want of unction, and of the power of the Holy Ghost, is a radical defect in their preparation for the ministry. I say not this censoriously, but still I would record it as a thing that has long been settled in my mind, and as a fact over which I have long had occasion to mourn. And as I have become more and more acquainted with the ministry in this and other countries, I am persuaded that, with all their training, and discipline, and education, they are wanting in practical views of the best way of presenting the Gospel to men, in their views of adapting means to secure the end, and especially in their want of the power of the Holy Ghost.

I have spoken at considerable length of my protracted controversy with my theological teacher, Brother Gale. Upon reflection I think that I should state a little more definitely some of the points upon which we had so much discussion. I could not receive that theological fiction of imputation. I will state as nearly as I can the exact ground that he maintained and insisted upon. First, he maintained that the guilt of Adam's first transgression is literally imputed to all his posterity; so that they are justly sentenced and exposed to eternal damnation for Adam's sin. Secondly, he maintained that we received from Adam, by natural generation, a nature wholly sinful and morally corrupt in every faculty of soul and body, so that we are totally unable to perform any act acceptable to God, and necessitated by our sinful nature to wholly transgress His law in every action of our lives. And this, he insisted, is the estate into which all men fell by the first sin of Adam. For this sinful nature, thus received from Adam by natural generation, all mankind are also sentenced to, and deserving of, eternal damnation. Then, thirdly, in addition to this, he maintained that we are all justly condemned and sentenced to eternal damnation for our own unavoidable transgression of the law. Thus we find ourselves justly subject to a triple eternal damnation. Then the second branch of this wonderful imputation is as follows: The sin of all the elect, both original and actual--that is, the guilt of Adam's sin, so far as the elect are concerned, together with the guilt of their sinful nature, and also the guilt of their personal transgressions, are all literally imputed to Christ; and therefore the divine government regarded Him as an embodiment of all the sins and guilt of the elect. The guilt of Adam's first sin imputed to them, Christ assumed; the guilt of their sinful nature He also assumed; the guilt of their personal transgressions He also assumed, and the government of God treated Him accordingly; that is, the Father punished the Son precisely as much as all the elect deserved, including the desert of the triple damnation which each deserved, and this multiplied by the whole number of the elect. Hence there is no mercy in saving them from the penalty of the law or in their forgiveness because, their debt being thus fully discharged by the punishment of Christ, they are saved upon principles of exact justice.

The third branch of this wonderful theological fiction is as follows: First, the obedience of Christ to the divine law is literally imputed to the elect, so that in Him they are regarded as having always perfectly obeyed the law. Secondly, His death for them is also imputed to the elect, so that in Him they are regarded as having fully suffered all that they deserve on account of the guilt of Adam's sin being imputed to them, and on account of their sinful nature, and also on account of all their personal transgressions. Thirdly, thus by their surety the elect have first perfectly obeyed the law, and then they have by and in their surety suffered the full penalty to which they were subject in consequence of the guilt of Adam's sin imputed to them, and also the guilt of their sinful nature, with all their blameworthiness for their personal transgressions. Thus they have suffered in Christ just as if they had not obeyed in Him. He first perfectly obeys for them, which obedience is strictly imputed to them, so that they are regarded by the government of God as having fully obeyed in their surety; secondly, He has suffered for them the penalty of the law, just as if no obedience had been rendered; thirdly, then after the law has been doubly satisfied, the elect are required to repent as if no satisfaction had been rendered; fourthly, thus having received payment in full twice over, the discharge of the elect is claimed to be an act of infinite grace. Thus the elect are saved by grace on principles of justice. That is, grace first obeys the law for the elect, then assumes and pays the debt, as if no obedience had been rendered, and then justice discharges and saves the debtor. So that there is strictly no grace or mercy in our forgiveness, but the whole grace of our salvation is found in the obedience and sufferings of Christ. It follows that the elect may demand their discharge on the score of strict justice. They need not pray for pardon or forgiveness; it is all a mistake to do so. This inference is my own, but it follows, as everyone can see, irresistibly from what the Confession of faith itself asserts, that the elect are saved on principles of exact and perfect justice.

I found it impossible to agree with Mr. Gale on these points. I could not but regard and treat this whole question of imputation as a theological fiction, somewhat related to our legal fiction of John Doe and Richard Roe. Upon these points we had constant discussion, in some shape, during the whole course of my study. I do not recollect that Mr. Gale ever insisted that the Confession of faith taught these principles right out and out, as I afterwards learned that it did when I came to study it. I was not aware that the rules of the presbytery required them to ask a candidate if he accepted the Presbyterian Confession of faith. Hence I had never read it, and was not at all aware that Mr. Gale in his discussion with me had only been defending the plain teachings of the Confession of faith on these points. As soon as I learned what were the unambiguous teachings of the Confession of faith upon these points, I did not hesitate at all on all suitable occasions to declare my dissent from them. I repudiated and exposed them. Wherever I found that any class of persons were hidden behind these dogmas, I did not hesitate to demolish them to the best of my ability.

I have not caricatured these positions of Mr. Gale, but have stated them as nearly as I can in the very language in which he would defend them when I presented them to him in controversy. He did not pretend that they were rational, or that they would bear reasoning upon. Hence he insisted that my reasoning would lead me into infidelity. But I insisted that our reason was given us for the very purpose of enabling us to justify the way of God, and that no such fiction of imputation could by any possibility be true. Of course there were many other points that were so related to these as necessarily to come under discussion, upon which we had a good deal of controversy. But our controversy always turned upon this as the foundation upon which all the rest rested. If man had a sinful nature, then regeneration must consist in a change of nature. If man's nature was sinful, the influence of the Holy Spirit that must regenerate him, must be physical and not moral. If man had a sinful nature, there was no adaptation in the Gospel to change his nature, and consequently no connection in religion between means and end. This Brother Gale sternly held; and consequently in his preaching he never seemed to expect, nor even to aim at converting anybody, by any sermon that I ever heard him preach. And yet he was an able preacher as preaching was then estimated. The fact is, these dogmas were a perfect straight-jacket to him. If he preached repentance, he must be sure before he sat down to leave the impression on his people that they could not repent. If he called them to believe, he must be sure to inform them that until their nature was changed by the Holy Spirit, faith was impossible to them. And so his orthodoxy was a perfect snare to himself and to his hearers. I could not receive it. I did not so understand my Bible, nor could he make me see that it was taught in the Bible.

When I came to read the Confession of faith, and saw the passages that were quoted to sustain these peculiar positions, I was absolutely ashamed of it. I could not feel any respect for a document that would undertake to impose on mankind such dogmas as those, sustained, for the most part, by passages of Scripture that were totally irrelevant; and not in a single instance sustained by passages that in a court of law would have been considered at all conclusive. But the presbytery were all of one way of thinking at that time, so far as I knew. They subsequently, however, I believe, all gave in; and when Mr. Gale changed his views, I heard no more from any of the members of the presbytery in defense of these views.

Return to MEMOIRS INDEX Page